This is a short story inspired by a beautiful, yet haunting picture by Paul Militaru Photography, called Eglantine…which is the rose hop from a briar rose. Enjoy!
Fragrant perfume filled the air as my fingers stroked the leaves of the row of eglantine that grew beside the trail. I walked along its path, unconsciously caressing the twigs and occasionally catching my sleeves and fingers on the tiny thorns that lined its branches. The wild rose’s blooms had long since disappeared, leaving in their place the swelling of rose hips, bright in their promise.
My mother and I often collected them. Our days were always filled with brimming baskets of petals and herbs, roots and leaves, that served to restore those who came to receive her gift of healing. Ironic that they now lined the path leading to the monument of her death.
The last two days had been a blur, and realization was only now dawning as I walked the ever widening path that led to the clearing of sorrow, as they called it. It is a place of mournful repose, one that most in our village at one time or another had visited. Especially recently. A sickness had entered and spread at an alarming rate among the residents. My mother, being a gifted healer,tended to their wounds and fevers. But even with all of her gifts and knowledge of herbs, she was not immune to its ravages.
Mother had always been careful not to bring remnants of the illnesses she encountered into our cott, often choosing to sleep in the shed with our meager collection of livestock. Most often her ministrations were limited to farm accidents, new babies, and the occasional skin infection. But since the arrival of our new schoolmaster, one by one the residents bloomed with fever and sores. Some had been cured, due to careful tending from my mother; many died. “A most horrible end”, she had said sadly, refusing to elaborate upon what she had seen.
Then her move to the shed became permanent. She spoke to me through the window of the cott, explaining that most in the village were now sick, and since I was not yet showing signs of exposure, she would not take the chance of spreading the infection to me. That was three days ago.
The next morning she woke with the fever, and the door to the shed was barred from the inside. Refusing my help, she asked only for water, a pot and a few herbal remedies that had already been prepared. I left them beside the door along with some bread and broth. Both remained untouched.
The eglantine bushes for which I was named, now served as a reminder of my young life – of fragrant experiences mingled with pain, and of the sweet love of my mother. The pain and uncertainty that her death would bring was almost unbearable. I was now completely alone, left to follow in her footsteps, or not.
Sweet Brier Rose. She named me this because when I was born, my skin was the color and texture of the soft pink petals that bloomed in early summer. Mother most often called me by my full name and I loved the way it rolled off her tongue; a most beloved term of endearment, especially now. But everyone else called me Brie.
The path opened up, and I stepped into the clearing, and amongst the throng of people gathered there. Downcast faces, each bearing their own pain, rose to mine as I passed, and offered their silent prayers of peace: for mother, her eternal soul, and too, for my days hereafter. I was much to young to stay at the cott alone. 16 was the age of majority, and I had not yet reached it, would not for some years to come. They would not let me stay there alone, regardless of how much they respected my mother. The elders would take control of our home, and pass it to a family that needed it. Of course I could stay with them, strangers in my own home, but it would be hard. My choices were limited, but I would not yet pondered them as I could not yet get past my grief. I would be allowed a couple of days to gather my few belongings.
I did not know my father. He had gone missing just after I was born. He left with the rest of the village on a hunt and never returned. Mother and I had always managed pretty well, as her skill was renowned. We were not well off by any stretch of the imagination, but we always had food and enough wood to keep us warm throughout the winter months; the villagers made sure of it. And really, what else did we need? But I knew not one other soul attached to my family by blood. I would most likely have to leave the only home I knew. There had been offers of a bed amongst a few of the villagers, but I knew that the offers were made mostly as a kindness. Most cotts were filled to bursting with families and children, and with so many gone from the illness, the fields had been left largely untended. Food had become scarce.
My steps ended at the pyre that she had been placed upon. There were 6 of varying sizes, and each held a loved one that had succumbed to fever. Most often bodies of the dead were buried beneath a monument to their lives, but fear had driven the elders to proclaim that the diseased would be burned, leaving no remains of what had infiltrated our lives. I reasoned that when my mother was gone, there would be nothing left to hold me here but memories, and those would always be with me no matter where I was.
I walked to the base of her funeral pyre and placed an armful of flowers and herbs that I had gathered from our garden; all of her favorites. The roses that she had always so carefully tended, pink and yellow, and the white ones that she had told be once represented purity and the eternal light that death would ultimately lead to. They seemed appropriate now. Rosemary and thyme, barberry and blessed thistle bunched around them now, infusing the air with the fragrant blossoms. As I stepped away to my place among the gathered crowd, the scent lingered and I breathed deeply, memorizing its heady aroma. “I will never forget” my soul cried out to hers. And the tears began to brim.
One of the men from amongst the throng stepped forward with a lit torch. After a slight nod to the families surrounding the beacon, he touched its lit end to the dried grasses that waited beneath. The flame caught and spread, quickly moving up the post toward those who waited. I watched as the fire encapsulated her body, separating it forever from mine.
It was then that I saw him. Beyond the balefire stood a man who I did not know, whom it did not appear that anyone knew. He faced the ravaging flames with a solemn countenance, and I saw the wet upon his face. His grief puzzled me. Who among these did he weep for? As I pondered this, he looked away from the rite, and directly into my eyes. His eyes bore through me, the same icy blue as those that I possessed. My mother had always said they were the color of a clear sky in winter, unhindered by the clouds, and through them you could see forever. Now, even at this distance, I seemed to be looking into eternity, into what the future held.
Recognition passed between us, and cold fear gripped my heart, my mind refusing to accept what my heart innately knew. It knew this man. How? I let my eyes drop from his piercing stare, and I turned back toward the path of eglantine, back toward all that I had ever known. I had not take but a step or two, when a hand gripped my arm, insistent but gentle. And I heard my name. “Sweet Brier Rose?” The sound of it pierced my soul, and it pulled my eyes back to his.
“Brie?” A cold chill passed through me, as though his voice were a ghost. ”I am your father.”
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