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Afterglow Grove

By Suzie Komza All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Fantasy


Inspired by the Koschei legend of Slavic folklore, this novelette is about a young woman who decides to find the predatory mage's hidden soul, and thereby free the villagers of his tyranny.

Morning Dew

Between two shadows, a truth is concealed – there, and only there, tales converge to unmask their mysteries. Between the trees our lives pulled and pushed, hiding in the darkness they were too afraid to touch.

As I unstuck my gritty morning eyes and faced the wooden wall across from my bed, my sister did the same in the settlement; only what she opened her eyes to was stone. 

I slipped out of my narrow bed and placed my feet firmly upon the cool floor. She took her time, stretching and then getting out gracefully, nudging her feet into her fur slippers with a contented yawn.

She had slept well; I can’t remember the last time I did.

I headed towards the basin on my washstand and splashed my face with icy water, shuddering as a few stray droplets slithered down my neck and between my breasts. She was already smiling, and in this attitude she glided to her grooming table, plunging her white hands into the basin and splashing her rosy face.

We looked out of our bedroom windows and observed the cold light of morning weaving through the oak and pine trees.

My carving tools were tucked into my shoulder satchel as I left the crooked hut on the edge of our land. I had found it when I was twelve, which is when I started to feel restless. I had slipped out of my bedroom window at midnight, tugged forward by an unanswerable energy, and then, after listening to a dead voice in the clay fireplace in the corner of the hut, my head met the ash-mantled floor and it swam with deeply rooted dreams that may have once been their lives.

The oak tree that had been planted on the day my uncle was born grew a handful of feet away from my hiding place, and I soon got to work on the bearded face. I chipped away at the bottom curls, and when the sun started to lower, I sanded it down. I was a carver because I remembered things, words, and faces better than most. This was my uncle’s resting place – he rode his dreams within this tree, while the rest of us still straddled the two worlds, sloppily patching signs and symbols together out of fragmented images that peeked into our minds through the cracks in our world.

I didn’t retrace my steps home. I hadn’t seen my sister in many days, so I began the long walk to the settlement.

The Vilk’s house was at the heart of everything, so I had to weave my way through the afternoon crowd, along the veins that inevitably led to the house I was raised in. My mother had given life to me in the woodland while harvesting herbs, when Sagan was still just a man, not a Vilk. He had yet to seek the spirits’ guidance, and his main concerns were to ensure his love’s comfort. After she had left, he sank into a mire of grief, and found his way to the witchblood of our family, just as I had done without anybody knowing.

The house was still when I walked in, the fire in the main room crackling shyly in the stone-framed pit. I reached the long feast table, which was strewn with scraps. I bit into a discarded loaf of sweet bread, and sat down with my legs crossed on the carpet next to the fire, where the dog slept.

“You always look so out of place in this house,” she remarked from the archway that led to the chambers, her eyes still heavy from the rest she took every day following afternoon victuals.

“And you always look like no other place would suit you,” I retorted, lifting my head in synchrony with the dog as she glided towards us. She was well built, but had a paradoxically long and slender neck that made her look gentler than she was. I was nothing like her – my mother had been dark and bony, little and beady-eyed. My stepmother, on the other hand, was milky and with the sunlight caught in her hair. Neda’s aquatic eyes scintillated as she sat down beside me.

“A home is where you are most happy,” she spoke, always adopting an attitude of hopeful wisdom around me, the worrisome shadow dweller. “Weren’t you happy here once, with us?”

“And now, odd little Vesna lives in the hut by the Gate,” I chortled, meeting her eyes spitefully.

“Yes, and speaks only with the Green Man. Not her sister.”

“Half-sister. And his name is Leshy.”

“He has yellow eyes.”

“You should be thankful for his yellow eyes! Do you know how frightened people are of them? He needs only to look their way, and they scamper back to the village. Where they belong.”

“Aren’t you curious?” she laughed, not entirely serious about it.

“Don’t tell me you’d like one of them to intrude on our settlement?”

“Perhaps not – but I would like to see where they live.”

“They live in tall houses and defecate in the street.”

“Then why does the Vilk assign us to help them – that is, some of them – when we grow old with moss and round with knowledge?”

“I suppose you’ll know when you’re a bit rounder, Neda,” I wrapped my arms around her trim waist, kissed her on the cheek, and sprang up to my feet. She watched me coolly as I escaped, once again leaving my wishes unsaid – if only she would visit me in that hut. I didn’t like her being so afraid of me.

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