Warlock - The Daughters and the Dark
The Daughters and the Dark by Warlock
One hazy summer morning, the Dark descended into earth with the Serpent in tow. He walked deeper and deeper, eventually stopping where the roots of a magnificent oak snaked down through the crumbling soil. He stroked one of the rough tentacles, felt that it was warm and smiled.
‘What is it, you fool?’ a voice rasped.
‘I have come, Mother Root, because I've decided we should wed. I am tired of living with serpents and crows and need the comfort of a woman, not to mention an heir.
Mother Root paused briefly and then laughter filled the chamber, until the walls began to shake and stones clattered from the ceiling onto the Dark and his slithering companion. The Serpent hissed with anger.
‘Humiliate me will you?’ growled the Dark, raising his stang.
‘You can’t kill me, you idiot. And you can’t marry me either. I was here before the world writhed with lizards. Besides, don’t you know? I’m married to Father Stone.’
The Dark cursed himself. In his haste he had forgotten all about Father Stone, though in truth, as Father Stone never moved or spoke, he was easy to forget. But then it was the same Father Stone who lit the Dark's fire and sharpened his blade. The Dark laid his hand on a protruding lump of granite.
‘Forgive me Father, I am truly sorry’ he muttered.
Mother Root laughed even harder, ‘Oh it gets better and better! He can’t forgive you. He doesn’t care if you’re sorry or not. He’s older than the earth itself and has met fools before. But still, before you go creeping back to the forest, I will offer you something. Each of my daughters is old enough to be your grandmother a thousand-fold, yet still they surge with the spirit of their youth.
‘And where might I find these daughters, so I might choose my favourite?’
‘It is not only you that will do the choosing – they must choose also. I will grant you one year with each of them. And at the end of the third year, we will hopefully have a wedding – if you play your cards right. Meet me at noon by the lake and I will introduce you to the first.'
The Dark was excited, if a little nervous. His cloak was smoky and shaggy and did nothing to conceal his dangling member, but he wasn’t concerned about such things. He polished his horns and hooves with sap and splashed his beard with river water. The Serpent followed through the cool grass and Crow sat high on his left shoulder.
When he approached the lake, he was enraptured by a splendour of blossoms. The balmy fragrance was intoxicating and, before him, stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She had hair so fair it dazzled and a cloak of white about her slender shoulders. Around her was a glare of bees and Mother Root stood by, wizened in comparison.
‘Greetings to the Dark’ the old woman crackled. Before you stands Flora, the most beautiful of my daughters. She is the keeper of flowers and lives off honey.
The Dark was entranced. ‘Please, old Mother, I need not see another. This contest is over before it has begun. Should she accept me, I will happily take the delightful Flora for my bride.
The girl smirked proudly, but Mother Root held up one of her long, spindly fingers.
‘You must first spend a year with all three daughters, that is the agreement.’
‘Very well. But I can’t possibly see how the others will compare.’
Flora and the Dark walked into the woods arm in arm. Her skin was cool and fresh and she stepped as lightly as the wind. Her scent was intoxicating. They lay together in an open glade, as bees and butterflies tied knots in the air.
The weeks and months passed in a haze of insects and hot summer smells. Too exhausted to hunt, the Dark lay on a bed of fresh petals and slurped honey from Flora's elegant fingers. All was quiet and still that summer and not a single mortal died as the Snake and Crow sipped from the honey pot and lazed in the sun.
‘I could stay like this forever’ sighed the Dark. But one evening, as the air was getting cooler, he noticed that Flora seemed sad and somehow less beautiful. When he held her she seemed frail like an old woman and he thought he felt her weeping in the night against his furry chest. In the morning, the Dark woke on a slimy bed of petals. Flora was gone and, looking down at himself, he felt truly miserable. His belly was fat and his beard was sticky with honey.
‘What has happened to her?’ the Dark asked. ‘And what has happened to me?’ Looking down, he saw the Serpent lying fat as a dog. He kicked it with his hoof.
‘Wake up! Idle lizard. Was it you? Have you swallowed my love?’
The Serpent laughed.
‘You call me idle when you have lazed and scoffed away the summer. Besides, at least I can still slither. The Crow is too fat to fly.’
‘Oh! Where is Flora?’ The Dark yawned, struggling to his feet. He went to the river, washed his beard and stared hard at his reflection. His belly and jowls were terribly fat. He went to bed each night on the bed of rotting petals, but no matter how much he wept for Flora, she didn't return. When Lady Frost arrived on her chariot of ice, she asked The Dark what he was looking so glum about.
'It's love' he said. 'Something you'd know nothing about, with your frozen heart.'
Lady Frost laughed her terrible laugh, which pierced the air like glass.
'If it's Flora you're seeking, look no further. I've cut her pretty throat.'
'Liar' the Dark snapped, but Lady Frost reached into her chariot and lifted a large, white flower. When the Dark looked closer, he realised it was indeed the head of his beloved, her features solid as ice. The Dark raised the sharp end of his stang, but just in time to see Lady Frost's chariot belting over the hilltop, leaving echoes of laughter in its wake.
It was a lonely winter for the Dark. The Crow was busy learning to fly once more and the Serpent slinked back into Hell to warm his scales. The Dark slumped out of the forest and followed a track onto the moor. He wandered higher and higher, then sat down on a rock and sobbed. But when he looked up, he was dazzled by a swathe of purple, reaching out across the landscape. It was heather. Amazed, he leapt to his feet and heard the sweet voice of Flora behind him. He turned to see her, but this time she was draped in purple.
'I thought you were dead' he said.
'I'm always dying' she replied. 'It's not a problem.'
'The forest is my home' the Dark replied. 'I don't belong on moors.'
'As you wish' Flora replied and, with a sparkle in her eyes, she vanished.
Behind him, the Dark heard a familiar rasp.
‘And how was your year?’ Mother Root asked.
‘It was a splendid summer. But then I got sticky and fat. And the winter was pretty depressing.'
‘Perhaps Flora isn't the one for you after all. Are you ready for the second?’
‘No I'm not. I'm all forlorn. And I haven't quite lost this belly. Anyway, it isn't spring yet’
'Spring comes quicker than you think' Mother Root chided, and looking to his feet, the Dark noticed that the snow was melting fast beneath him, trickling into streams that grew into fierce rivers. Looking around for Mother Root, he realised she was gone. In her place stood a small figure in a green cape of wax. Her ears were somewhat elfish and when she moved she appeared as a blur.
‘Excuse me’ mumbled the Dark. ‘I wasn’t expecting you so soon.’
‘I don’t do anything slowly and I’m always ahead of time, for it is I who paints the forest green. Shall we get on with it? There’s an awful lot to do. I’m Ivy, by the way.’
With that, Ivy shot through the trees, maintaining her incredible grace.
‘Come on!’ she called back, as the Dark scrambled through branches and brambles, leaving the fattened Serpent behind, whilst the Crow, who was only just beginning to fly again, fluttered and flapped. But run as he might, the Dark couldn’t keep up. Eventually he found Ivy, sipping water from a brook. He was gasping and dripping with sweat, but she was cool and calm as when she first appeared. He saw now that she too was beautiful, though her features were firmer and pointier than Flora's. Her pale fingers were long with a deep, dark green at the tips.
‘Really’ she said. 'I don’t know if this will do at all. I would normally have painted three leagues of woodland by now. You’re slowing me down.’
‘Slowing you down?!’ roared the Dark. ‘I’m the fastest thing on legs in this forest. I’ll show you.’
After a big gulp of water, the Dark did his best throughout the day to keep up and, by dusk, his belly had completely disappeared, the Serpent was as skinny as a twig and the Crow was once more swift and sleek, like a deadly arrow. He took three mortal lives with the blade of his beak, just to prove he still had it, though the puny Serpent struggled to drag them into Hell.
The Dark curled up next to Ivy’s slender frame and she smelt of freshly cut leaves. Even when they lay together, she didn't break a sweat, though both slept soundly afterwards. The next morning, Ivy was awake and ready to run before the Dark had even washed his beard.
‘Already?’ he gasped. 'But I’ve not eaten breakfast.’
‘I know. I was pinching and kicking you for an hour but all you did was snore. You’re the laziest devil there is.’
‘Nobody pinches the Dark!’ he gruffed. ‘And I am not lazy at all – I’ll prove it.’
Day after day this went on. The Dark chased Ivy for leagues and leagues through forest and glade. Wherever green grew they ran. They even painted the grass – blade after blade after blade. The Dark grew bony. The Crow still took life, though only from the weak and the Serpent was far too gaunt to carry off the bodies. Putrid corpses rotted on the land, rats emerged from their holes and flies began laying their eggs. The Dark had to struggle over this vile mess in wild pursuit, but was determined to keep up with Ivy, if not for love then fear of shame. Only when Lady Frost appeared once more on her chariot did Ivy start to slow: her eyes became hollow and her cape grew dull and heavy. Still, she struggled on, through hail and snow, but she couldn't reach all of the leaves and most just withered and died. Completely exhausted, the Dark collapsed in the snow and slept and slept with Lady Frost's laughter in his ears.
When he woke, the snow had melted and Ivy was gone. Before him stood old Mother Root with a crooked grin.
‘What’s the matter? Couldn’t keep up?’
‘What an exhausting life!’ the Dark yelped. ‘I hope this third daughter is able to stand still for more than a second’
‘My third daughter is the most special of the three, though she is often overlooked. Ensure you are kind to her. She is not the sort of woman you would want to upset.'
With that, Old Mother Root vanished and the Dark felt terribly uncomfortable. He realised he had fallen asleep in a bramble patch. Some of the vines were thicker than his ankles and the thorns dug like nails in his flesh. As he tried his best to wriggle free, there stood before him a most peculiar creature. She was long and skinny with twisted limbs and flesh the colour of bark. Her hair was tangled and wild and, most strangely, her face was completely covered with thorns.
‘My goodness. Who are you? Why did Mother Root not introduce you?’
‘I can introduce myself’ she said in a throaty whisper. ‘I am Thorn. People don’t like me being around too much. They say I cause pain.’
‘Well I can relate to that’ said the Dark. ‘Why are you not beautiful, like your sisters?’
‘Am I not beautiful? Look closely at my thorns, each as sharp as the Serpent’s fangs. They do not rot like Flora’s petals or wither and die like Ivy’s leaves. They glisten in the rain and draw plenty of blood. And what is more beautiful than blood?’
The Dark sat and thought carefully as he looked at this peculiar creature. She was short and lopsided, with long spindly arms like her mother’s. Her body was completely covered in thorns, even the top of her head and face.
‘How would we lie together?’ the Dark asked. ‘You’d tear me to ribbons.’
‘My kiss is stronger than any in the forest. And when I cling to you I don’t let go. I could entwine you and protect you from harm, but I could also lacerate your enemies. I could shred them into a million pieces.’
The Dark thought again. ‘We’ll see how the year goes.’
Thorn heaved herself onto his back and his thick hide cloak protected him from her spines. She coiled her long arms around his own, making sure the thorns pointed outwards like iron nails. The Dark felt powerful with his thorny arms as he strode through the forest. After several miles, they heard a rustling in the bushes. As they approached, they saw a man tipping a bag of rubbish onto the ground from a large filthy sack. The Crow twitched his wings, ready to pounce, but the Dark flicked his beak and bid him be still. Catching the man unawares, The Dark took a mighty swipe with his forearm, hitting him under the chin. The thorns pierced the man’s windpipe and he gasped and choked and bled in a heap. Thorn slid off the Dark’s back and poked out her long black tongue. The tip was, itself, a single black thorn, thick and razor sharp. Licking down the man’s body, she sliced him open as if he were a salmon. The Dark allowed the Crow to peck out his innards and replaced them with the rubbish, before the Serpent dragged the corpse down to Hell.
‘That was pretty nice work’ sighed the Dark. ‘I can’t imagine Flora slicing someone up with her tongue. Ivy neither.’
‘I have my talents’ Thorn hissed, wriggling back onto his hide. The Dark noticed that, all around them, a sea of brambles was unfolding.
‘What’s more, you are yet to taste my fruit.’
Before his very eyes, a wealth of blackberries swelled to bursting point. He waded into the brambles and feasted on berries until his hands bled and his beard dripped purple. And the more he ate the darker he felt. Each mouthful was a wicked delight. The Crow feasted too and multiplied, and the rats and mice ate also, which kept the Serpent supple and strong. But before they could eat too much, Thorn tightened her grip on the Dark’s arms to remind him, painfully. This annoyed him at first, but then he remembered his reflection in the river and realized he needed boundaries. And what better boundary than pain?
The first time they lay together was like nothing the Dark had known. The spines on her face tore his cheeks and forehead until blood soaked into his beard, and the spike on her tongue entered his mouth.
He had known no greater pleasure.
When Lady Frost arrived, she saw the Dark trudging through the bare forest, but didn't notice Thorn on his back.
'Still alone?' Lady Frost asked.
'Look closer' the Dark smirked. 'Try chopping her head off and see what happens.'
Lady Frost laughed. 'She's an ugly little thing, But I daresay you've chosen wisely. Besides, Thorn and I are friends. We both pinch and bite the mortal flesh, do we not? As a gift, I will end this winter early so you can enjoy an Imbolc wedding.
And so, when winter had passed, a wedding was held and, out of respect, the Dark garlanded his horns with ivy and rose. From then on, Thorn and the Dark's love grew deeper and darker, so whenever you prick your finger on a thorn or eat a blackberry, you can be certain that the Dark is near.