Autumn – Chapter 12 – 05

                Sun bathed the plaza, shattered glass sparkling in the light, turning into some strange, post-apocalyptic wonderland.  We moved past the library and I shook my head slightly, brows knitting.
                “We’ve still got a lot of books to pull out of there,” I said.
                “You’ve pulled a ton out already.  Are there that many more?”
                “There’s a lot.”  I shoved my hands into my pockets, fingers slightly chilled.  I should have grabbed some gloves.  “We started up on the fourth floor and worked our way down.”
                “Periodicals first?”  J.T. made a face as if he didn’t understand why we’d do that.  All I could do was shrug.
                “It seemed like a good idea at the time.  It’ll be a lot of work, but hopefully we’ll clean it out before the worst of the snow hits.”  Hopefully we’ll have the time.  Our defenses have to come first, though.  “And if it doesn’t, hopefully the building won’t come down completely until after we’ve managed to get the rest out.”  And hopefully the weather won’t damage what’s left inside too much.
                He grunted and shook his head.  “I shouldn’t have asked.”
                I grinned.  “Probably not.  Thom did and he regretted it.”
                “Somehow I’m not surprised.”
                The garden, still a tattered remnant of its former self, lay a few dozen yards before us.  The hedges were a bit thinner with the coming of fall, but they were still a deep green, still hearty.  Stepping through the hedgerows and into the garden still had the feeling of crossing some kind of boundary, though, despite the destruction of the place.  I smiled.
                “What?”  J.T. asked, catching the expression out of the corner of his eye.
                “I didn’t feel it the last time—probably because everything was in such rough shape—but I did this time.”
                The look he gave me made it clear he had no idea what I was talking about.  I chuckled softly.
                “There’s a circle here—a fairy circle.  You can just barely feel it when you cross into the garden.  It’s like our wards, but not.”
                J.T. grunted. “So that’s what the tickle was.”
                I grinned again and slipped past him, heading toward the half-fallen trellis of roses.  The bright red blossoms were still in bloom, even this late in the season.
                “Mar, check this out.”
                I turned toward the sound of J.T.’s voice.  He pointed at something resting on a broken stone bench at his feet.  “What is that?”  I asked as I moved closer, catching only a bare glimpse of something white and orange and red and green.
                It was a circlet made of flowers and leaves—roses and holly and oak and maple leaves with marigolds here and there.  My breath caught and I knelt down to touch it, half afraid that I was imagining it.  “Where did it come from?”  I murmured.
                “Our little friends, I’d guess,” J.T. said softly.  “When I told Carolyn what I was planning to do today—the candles, I mean—she said I should bring you out here with me and check the garden.  Something tells me she knew about this little surprise.”
                I smiled.  “Well, it’s certainly a welcome one.”  I carefully lifted the wreath, turning it over in my fingers.  The knots that held it all together were so fine I almost couldn’t see them, but it felt far from delicate as I handled it.
                It only looks dainty and liable to fall apart.  Say one thing for the little guys—they do good work.
                I set it back down carefully and stood up, dusting a little mud off my knees.  “Let’s take care of the blessing and the candles first,” I said to J.T.  “We can come back up here and get the wreath and the flowers for my bouquet.”  I was rather pleasantly surprised that there were still roses, but not disappointed at all.  They were the one thing that Thom had never given me outside of festival weekend, when it was all but expected.  As romantic as he could be, that was the one thing that he’d never really been concerned with—he was more of a chocolate kind of guy.
                J.T. nodded, staring beyond the hedges toward the barrows.  Grass had slowly begun to spread over the turned earth, even this late in the season.  Perhaps someday, trees would grow there, sheltering our dead for decades and more, like what had happened at the nearby Norton Mounds, further downriver from campus.
                Or perhaps it would just become a small, grassy hillock, forgotten by everyone except for us.
                It seemed both scenarios were equally likely.
                I caught J.T.’s hand and we headed down toward the burials.  I could feel energy tingling through every limb, arcing up and down my spine as we grew closer to the burial.
                “It’s all holding,” I murmured.  “The blessings, all of it.”
                J.T. nodded mutely, looking distant and sad.  I squeezed his hand.
                “There was nothing you could have done for them,” I whispered.
                “I know,” he said, his voice thick.  “That doesn’t make it any easier to do this.”  He handed me the bag of candles.  “Lay them out,” he said softly.  “I’ll light them behind you.”
                I did as he’d asked, making the long circuit of the burial ground, J.T. three steps behind, lighting each tealight behind me.  The grass was still damp from the morning dew, still chilled.
                We eventually came back around to the place where we’d started.  J.T. knelt down in front of the barrow.  I didn’t understand the words he spoke, but I recognized the language as some dialect of Gaelic.  Whether Phelan had taught him the prayer—or blessing—that he uttered, I wasn’t sure and I wasn’t inclined to ask.  I just rested my hand lightly on his shoulder, adding my own silent plea to his words.
                Bless and keep us, my fallen friends.  We already owe you our lives once.  Rest peacefully and well.  This hope is my gift to you on this, my wedding day.
                My eyes slid closed and for a second, I thought I felt an icy caress on my cheek, the feel of cold lips against my forehead.
                I opened my eyes as the feeling faded and J.T. fell quiet.
                There was no one there.  We were alone.

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One Response to Autumn – Chapter 12 – 05

  1. Antonious says:

    And yet, not alone. The blessing and gift of hope were accepted and acknowledged.

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