The Grasses by the Pond
The soap suds had long gone flat in Brona’s bath. She’d overspent her time in the clawfoot tub, but her body was not ready to brave the dry, cold world outside its ceramic walls. Ordinarily at 6:30AM she’d be down by the creek collecting the day’s water and peeling Grendt from off the kitchen floor. Brona sank deeper into the tub and stared out the window.
The bathtub was situated in the guest bathroom, which was only an afterthought to a grander room right beside it, with white marble floors and exotic foliage in the planters. Paned windows which reached from floor to ceiling encompassed most of the wall space, leaving only thin slivers of wall in between the trim to allow for floral plaster paper. It was an overly large room for its purpose, with the tub and towel ladders all huddling against the centre window. The largely unused bathroom made Brona feel small.
She and Callum had gone to bed late the previous night rehearsing his speech for the next campaign rally. The air was filled with sharp rebuttals and silly questions posed by Brona, such as ‘What would Callum do if the Wood Folke suddenly demanded the right to claiming everyone’s left shoe?’ He may have been in his night gown, but Callum acted with complete professionalism, which intimidated Brona slightly at the relentless push of his arguments (she even had to run away squealing at one point from being on the wrong end of one of his disputes). His opponents were sure to be intimidated, thought Brona, as she took a careful step out of the tub onto the towel-padded floor.
With two cookies jammed in her mouth, Brona walked across the cold floors slick with condensation and knocked at the door. The valet, Donegal, was waiting on the other side, with Brona’s clothes in hand, washed and mended. Donegal made no attempt at eye contact as Brona reached for her clothes “Um. Thank-you.” said Brona, feeling awkward that out of all the staff, she had spent most time with Donegal, and yet they were barely on speaking terms even after years of knowing each other. They had the same age difference as Brona had with Callum. She was sure she could keep a conversation with him if she could just find the right topic to discuss. Brona opened her mouth to ask about transformative Ouroborics as Donegal turned into a basset hound and walked away. Ultra cool, thought Brona standing alone.
Pockets filled with the remainder of the biscuits from the tray, Brona set down the great staircase to the main floor. She didn’t bother searching for Callum as he mentioned the night before he’d be leaving the house early for campaign research. Unlike Callum’s exciting life, Brona’s life was more routinely: Collect water, read and test herself on the standardized curriculum, fill the pantry with ingredients for Ouroborics, get laughed at by Grendt when she failed Ouroborics, and practice. Practice constantly.
Callum had veered Brona from her errands the day before. After completing her Task, she had planned to collect ingredients from the grass fields before she was wonderfully derailed by the prince in sea foam green. Brona decided to pick-up from where she left off yesterday. She looked forward to stocking her pantry with new ingredients for Distortions and retrying the chutney. A routine day, but another step forward to becoming a great Distorter and breaking the Task Curse. The four-hour walk back to the east end was going to suck though.
The front doors unlocked with a click and swung open slowly due to their large size. Morning was a bit chilled today, so Brona put her hands in her pockets to retain some of the manor’s warmth as she exited the home. Much to her delight, Callum’s staff had thoroughly washed her pants, and the pockets were no longer lined with the soot from the disintegrated Task Letter – which was also good since she stuffed them with biscuits without thinking earlier.
The staff lined up on either side of Brona as she left, seven to the left, six to the right. Some became dogs as she walked past them, some of them already standing as dogs. Brona was unsure of the etiquette involved in someone becoming a dog but wondered if they’d be bothered if they were pet in that state. Brona turned and thanked them all again for taking care of her. Some smiled and waved, others barked. Basic human (or dog) decency was so nice to receive. Brona was sure there would be more of that in her future the day she left Late Sun.
Thoughts about Callum’s transforming staff carried Brona down the hilly path until she was back at the gates by the town centre, the same spot Callum had spotted her yesterday. Brona was exasperated after the long walk. She took a brief break to eat the last cookie in her pocket and take a sip of water from a creek rill nearby. Some Sunnish men appeared to be walking towards Brona so she quickly abandoned her pause to continue eastward to the grass fields before she was given more spoons to weigh her down.
On the way up the dirt path, Brona practiced a Distortion which hid her footsteps behind her. After every new step she took, the fourth furthest back would disappear. Brona strongly dug her heel into the next step, then quickly ran a little circle around it to see the effects on the deeper groove. An elevated mound in the shape of her sole appeared instead of flattened earth. Why hadn’t it worked that time? Brona became frustrated and moved onto another practice.
The Distortion wasn’t of her own making, it was something Grendt had Braided into her fingers: An encrypted message in symbols she couldn’t read, but hand-written by Grendt. The symbols glowed black and rotated in circles about each of Brona’s fingers. From time-to-time, Brona tried to crack the code of symbols, but Grendt always mocked when she tried saying “You won’t be able to solve it until you get good, son!” and then take a sip of something alcoholic.
Cracking a code to some pointless message, probably something along the lines of ‘You just lost The Game’, was yet another useless practice prescribed by Grendt. But, Brona had to admit, there was sometimes a method to Grendt’s madness. One time, she had Brona carry around a porcelain mug anywhere she went for weeks. Brona was told to carry it when walking from room to room in the house, when she went outside and for it to be the only mug she used to drink from for that time. Brona had noticed it’d gone missing one morning only for it to reappear in her peripherals before it hit her head— but it stopped mid-air, fell, and shattered onto the floor. Grendt was standing with her arm still extended from the overhand throw. “Fucking-A!” Grendt had smiled. Brona was confused how she was able to Distort the object into stopping without trading something in return, but Grendt had explained that she had traded something.
Studying the object, knowing the feel of the cold porcelain, the lopsided weight of the shape and the colour of it in every light were the traded elements into Distorting the mug as long as Brona remembered those dimensions. After that, Brona understood why she had been carrying the mug for so long, but she was saddened she couldn’t attempt to Distort it again as it was now in chalky pieces on the floor, and she no longer intimately understood its dimensions. Since then, Brona gave up on trying to discern which of Grendt’s homeworks were for her entertainment and which were important, and just did all of them in-case.
The symbols weaving around Brona’s fingers flickered out as she pushed open a gate at the top of a hill and took in the expanse of the grassy field.
It smelled sweet, and although the sun was as dim as expected for 11AM, the field felt like it was being warmed, making the scent of grass and moist earth that much stronger. There wasn’t much here other than a few stand-alone trees, but for some reason, this field was rife with magical capacity. It carried some of the most essential ingredients needed for low level Distortions. Grendt said the area was probably a grounds where a lot of Ouroborics happened in the past, and that the residual magic probably got knotted into the soil. It was hard to think anything spectacular ever happened in Late Sun, let alone some sort of grand Distortional happenings that left enough Strings floating around to enchant the dirt. But thanks to whatever happened, Brona was able to collect what she needed; mugwort, Scutch grass, wild apples, lemon grass, chives, tall fescue, and small oval stones from the river for herself and to trade with the Wood Folke. They were whores for stones.
She tried to keep all the ingredients separate, but she only had four pockets, and the apples wouldn’t fit. Thankfully, there was an empty basket sitting underneath a tree, probably belonging to someone who was likely to return soon, but it’s not like Brona’s reputation was going to improve anytime soon, so she decided she would borrow it.
Plunck! Plunck! Plunck!
Apples fell hard into the basket, but they were wild and a bit more resilient to bruising than their domesticated cousins. Brona wanted to gather a few more now that she had a method of carrying them back home. Usually the apples ready to be picked had already fallen off the tree and were laying on the ground, but there were a few still hanging that looked awfully nice, and Brona wanted to fill the basket to at least half-full. She steadied herself against the lower branches and placed one foot on the trunk, mustering the energy to climb up the tree.
When the air went still.
Normally a change in the weather wouldn’t be something to consciously note, but the skies were clear, and the leaves had been rustling up until now. The grass had quieted as well. Brona righted herself and walked out from under the tree to get a better look at what was causing the stillness.
Trees the size of mountains appeared to the South. And to the East. And the West. Brona couldn’t believe she didn’t notice this upon entering the field, or ever notice in her life that there were giga sized trees surrounding the entire province. They mimicked the same crescent alignment that encompassed the town, and they had the same kind of leaves as the trees by her home, but they dwarfed everything by comparison. The shadows they cast left the entire town in shadow. The same grasses beneath Brona’s feet also looked as though they were taller nearer the treeline. As though the arrival of this sizeable woodland wasn’t peculiar enough, a rhythmic tfftting sound began to emanate from the forest.
Brona looked to the tree she was standing under and checked her own body over. She hadn’t shrunken (from what she could tell) and the tree and basket were in the same proportions as they were a moment ago. Setting down the basket, Brona cautiously started toward the treeline and the growing sound.