BY DR. AGONSON
“Who are you,” she asks, her voice quivering. Through the thinning mists he stares at her, his grey monochrome eyes like thick smoke. The lady stands beside the charred willow.
Can it be that a thing still is itself once consumed? The willow, by fire destroyed, is no more, and yet by this ancient tree, a tree known by many fathers and generations till now, she stands, as by her title is still called.
“A brute, if milady wants, and servant to your house.”
At these words she touches the tree, feeling the crumbling soot, like smooth sand, stick to her fingers.
“And what house,” she replies, “is that?” With a little meditation, she then adds, “Is this not it, ashes, some floating in the breeze, some dirtying my hand?”
“Then I am ashes, and happy too, to be in your hand.”
She rubs away a tear, forgetting the soot, thus blackening her cheek. Blinking to clear her sight, she studies this brute. She sees his arm, under his jacket, resting in a sling. A poor soldier, she thinks to herself, stolen from the fields where he was born, pressed into her house’s service, now spared his life by lucky malluck. Checking his eyes again, she sighs.
My own eyes made grey, she thinks, when I was as he pressed into this house’s service.
They alike loved this house still, though it be naught, alike owing to it status unattainable. From a slave he was made into a man; though subject to a lord, this ignoble ennobled found a richer life than any of his fathers. And she—daughter to some other noble without lands or titles, noble in name only—married to wealth beyond riches, though of that there was plenty, married to a wildness that warred even with the maelstrom, reserving tenderness unknown by all else, reserved solely for her.
“A brut should be possessed of a name?” she finally asks.
“Not a name worth your lady’s lips, but should it please you, your master and mine christened me as Allen.”
So not even your name, she wonders, he let you keep, and stole from you not just your life and parents, but the heritage they left.
Her own heritage, stolen in his countless wars, taken left her an orphan and his captive, but capture sweeter, and more desired, than what was hers before. To this point: in marriage he took her name away, replacing it with his, and in authority christened Allen, Allen of the Willow.
“What have we now, Allen the brut? What can recompense this?” She gestured before them.
O the scene under her dirtied hand viewed, all beauty aflame. The rebels, like fools wanting meat, slay all to consume in one night’s murderous revelry. All they desired is soiled by that flame, and without salt, the morrow shall bring swift rot.
“The lineage continued, the hope within your womb,” reminds the brute his lady.
And here the tears are loosed and pour like twin cataracts over stony mountains, for that woman, as like a flint, would not be mastered by rude emotion—only one master, though dead she honored, would she allow—and steeled her face; want of tenderness, only stone, over this those waters flowed. As like the tears were due to smoke, she blinked away her sorrow.
Upon the ground the brute knelt before her, his unbandaged arm reaching for the ash blanketed earth. It seemed one blade of grass still stood, and this he tenderly husbanded. Sweeping away the dust of war he began to dig. His hand he plunged into the soil, and all around a crater formed by drawing up that sprout. Tenderly he held it out.
“A sapling from a noble tree,” he said, “a tree by evil felled. Should not the gods, who love the good and from the good are born, should they not be our guards, vouchsafe a future? Will they not this meagre plant enrich, and bless us who shall tender it?”
And so a thing may be, though it no longer is: a sapling regrown shall the Willow’s House renew, and a child unborn a kingdom plant.
Listen to my beautiful voice: