Inspired by Silent Voice II by LeviDansam
Yngve sat, back to the fence, listening to the butterflies scream at one another.
-Hey! Hey! Heeeeeeey!-
-Heeeeey! Hey! Hey!-
He’d seen, before he’d turned around, a strawberry. Full and ripe, nearly the size of his thumb. Blushing like a shy barmaid that had had too much to drink.
Yngve remembered the last shy barmaid he’d met and gotten drunk and corrected his metaphor. Blushing like a very ripe strawberry then. Or a small selection of shy drunk barmaids.
The strawberry wasn’t shouting. Plants didn’t, in his experience. Its chittering was part of the background hum, the forty part harmony of small, pleasant voices that made up the greenery of the garden.
Like a children’s choir.
Only better trained.
And humming, instead of singing.
And the tall girl in the back wasn’t trying to start a fight with the short boy in front of her by breathing heavily on his hair. And no one’s ribbons were getting pulled.
Yngve winced away from the the thought.
He needed a way out of this. But his mind would only spin in useless circles.
Last night Ylva faded out of the shadows, in that way she had. He always knew, afterward, that she had made small noises as she approached, and that her movement had been visible between the flickering shadows cast by the small fire. But it was always a surprise when she appeared.
“Ylva!” He had greeted her, staying seated, staying still. A winter under her gentle care, and she still didn’t like it when he moved too fast.
“Yngve.” Although in her mouth his name sounded more like ‘child-who-was-wounded-and-has-gone-away’. “I have come to call in my favor.”
It had been more than a year. He’d wondered if he would see her, while he was passing on her side of the mountains. He’d forgotten that Ylva had no small talk, and little concern for pleasantries.
“Alright. What can I do for you?” Yngve smiled. “Have some of my meat, it is fresh, and I have plenty. Have some of my warmth, I’ll build up the fire.”
Ylva sat, where she was, at the edge of the circle of firelight. “I thank you, child-who-was-wounded-and-has-gone-away, for your offer of meat, but I am not hungry. And I thank you, child-who-was-wounded-and-has-gone-away, for your offer of warmth, but I am not cold.”
Yngve stilled again. He put down the log he’d been levering over to the fire. He knelt, trying to match her unexpected formality. “Mother-she-wolf, you have done for me more than I could repay with such trivialities as food and warmth. I owe you more than my life, but for your continued friendship I would do even more then that.”
Her ears twitched, and her tail tucked in tighter around her toes. But that was all. A softening of the shoulders, and nothing more. “Child-who-was-wounded-and-has-gone-away, I could desire nothing more then that. Pay your favor and, if you still wish it, my friendship and my den will always be available to you.”
Yngve raised his eyebrows. If he still wished it?
Now The door creaked open.
Yngve’s heart started to hammer. His mouth went dry.
A new voice began to hum. Not the low, lazy, repetitive humming of the plants. But the humming of child. Loud, clear, buzzing. The tune muddled and destroyed and turned in endless broken cycles.
“Okay plants.” The child said. Too young to tell if it was a girl or a boy, but Yngve was betting on girl. What little boy could possibly muster that much imperial dignity? “It is time to be watered! You will behave for being watered!”
The plants didn’t respond, but the child paused for them anyway.
“I understand that you do not like to be watered! But watering is good for plants, just like baths for little girls! So you will be watered! And you will cooperate or you will go to bed with no dinner tonight!”
The plants continued to not respond.
The butterflies hadn’t noticed either, but they were cavorting on the far side of the garden.
“Good!” The little girl said. “I am glad to hear that you will cooperate! There will be treats later!”
Yngve heard the pounding of little boots stepping with purpose and power off of the wooden porch and onto the well tended earth.
The child began to hum again. It clashed horribly with the garden’s symphony.
Yngve breathed in, trying to fill his stomach and calm his heart, and trying to do it without being heard. She would see him soon. She had to see him soon. He couldn’t do it. He had to do it. Maybe her father would come home from the hunt early and he would have to leave and try again. Maybe they would move, far away, and Ylva would release him from his oath.
And maybe the sky would fall, too.
Years ago Yngve lay, one arm tucked under his body, pressed into his stomach. His heart was still speeding up, and the pounding made a rapid fluttering in his ears.
He listened to the shouting of the blue-bottles. He wasn’t sure where they had come from, this late in the fall. But there they were, buzzing over him.
“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”
“It’s warm over here! It’s warm!”
He could no longer feel the blood leaking out from his stomach. He couldn’t decide if that was because his arm had fallen asleep, or if the blood had just stopped leaking.
It didn’t matter. Either way.
But the flies were really pissing him off.
“EYEBALLS!” One shouted.
Yngve blinked, knocking it away. But it kept shouting about them. He shut them.
And then they were all shouting it, even the ones that were crawling on the back of his neck and down into his shirt, looking for rotting flesh. “Eyeballs! Eyeballs!”
And then they scattered, screaming.
Something was standing over him, breathing. Warmth, and the smell of carrion, washed over his head.
“Oh.” She said. “You aren’t dead yet.” A cold nose brushed the back of his neck, trailing hot breath.
“No, mother.” He hadn’t been expecting his voice to work.
“Are you always so polite?” She asked, amused. There was the soft rustling of dirt shifting and heavy weight being placed lightly upon the earth. “Or is the occasion of your death special?”
It took time to gather another breath. “Are you waiting for me, mother?”
“Yes.” She said it with no affectation, no anger, and no regret. “I shall take you home to my children and they will feed upon your corpse.”
“Why don’t you,” His breath didn’t come, and he gasped, “Come closer, mother?”
She laughed. It was not a warm laugh. “I know your kind, no matter what shape of tongue you speak with. If I come closer to you, you will draw your tooth and do your best to make sure that neither of us see the coming winter. Do you deny it?”
Yngve didn’t. But they’d taken his knife. He’d been planning to do it with hands, and at least achieve a faster end. “Mother, please. Don’t leave me dying here.”
“It will only be another hour or so. I can smell your death.”
“Please. Don’t make me wait.” An hour or so, that was a long time. Perhaps the wound was not as bad as he believed. He tried summoning to mind the images of his friends, family, home. But each image flowed away, leaving him with the memory of his brother’s bloody sword.
Yngve got an inch off the ground before his arm collapsed. He lay there, darkness filling his open eyes. Eventually, the pain was replaced by the buzzing of flies.
“Eyeballs? Eyeballs!” Something walked across his eye.
Yngve blinked, as vision returned.
Another fly was crawling across his face, wandering just above his lip. “Warm. Warm. Waaaarm.”
He breathed out, through his nose. The fly slid but kept walking.
A huge she-wolf lay in front of him, resting, watching with bright golden eyes framed by black fur. “Do you speak the tongue of every being, dying man?”
“Yes, mother.” The fly on his face screamed and bolted.
He could hear others, crawling between his belly and the ground. “This! Sticky!”
“What are the trees saying, dying man?”
Yngve closed his eyes. It was easier then keeping them open. The trees sang, each voice clear and distinct. A cacophony, not a chorus. More voices then he could make out, because the smaller plants hummed, as did the insects that trundled in the pale leaf litter.
-blanket of rest heavy dark strength to prevail time after time the slowness-
“They sing about the coming snow, mother.”
There was decision in her voice when she spoke next. “I will aid you. In return, you shall help each of my children, you shall give me your name, and you shall owe me a favor of greater value then your life.”
The hope was unexpected. Yngve swallowed and forced his eyes back open. “Anything. Please.”
“And you will swear on the blood that pools below and sinks into the earth.” Her golden eyes took his and held them. Her tongue was red against her black fur.
“I swear.” His voice was broken, whiskery. Yngve took a breath, a gasp. “I swear by my blood, leaking into the moist earth. I will give you aid, give you my name. Give you a favor of greater value than my life.”
Her stare went on a moment longer, and then she rose on long legs. “I will bring you one of your kind, and you will not forget your oath.”
Yngve’s eyes fell shut as he listened to her pad away.
She’d chased two children to him and left them. The children had dragged him home, and their mother and father had nursed him back to life. It was two months before they realized who he was, and left him, still unable to walk on his own, deep in the forest with a bundle of food and supplies.
She found him there. He gave her his name.
“My children need help.” She said. He pulled himself up, and she walked with him back to her den, his hand heavy on her shoulder. She had three cubs. One was injured, a broken leg.
Yngve set it. The heart of winter passed, but the frost stayed. Yngve could walk again, but the last of the game had left or starved. There were no more plants to eat, not even buried beneath the heavy covering of snow.
The trees sang only of winter.
After two weeks of cold so intense that even the fire he lit in her den could not keep the ice away, she said, “My children need help.”
Yngve led her back to the farm, and opened for her the door of the pigpen. One sow remained, heavy with fat, speaking sleepily to herself of spring acorns.
The snow stayed for five more weeks.
When spring came, she said, “You have given me your name. You have aided each of my children. One day, I will come to you and demand a favor of greater value then your life.”
What could he say?
“Plant!” The child said. “Stop it! I will report you to Papa!”
Yngve resisted the urge to turn around and discover how the plant was defying her.
“That is better, plant.” Her humming resumed, drawing closer. The butterflies saw her and stopped shouting at each other to scatter to the other end of the garden.
“Oh!” Stillness. “Excuse me?” The child said, right behind his head. “Hello? Are you resting on our fence?”
“Hmm?” Yngve said, opening his eyes and blurring his voice.
“Oh, sorry.” The child said. “I didn’t realize you were asleep. That’s a silly place to sleep. How come you don’t sleep in your bed?”
Yngve turned around, faking a wide yawn. It was a little girl. Glittering blue eyes, pale yellow hair. She was dressed in a ratty blue dress. She had a thick clay jar full of water in her hands. “I’m sorry, miss.” Yngve said, mouth dry, “I didn’t catch that. Can you say it again?”