The scent of their youth wafted off them like grass after a light spring rain, drawing it like a bee to a flower. They chased each other on the trimmed green, a dog chasing its tail. Its twin auras glowed like the sun.
Poor thing, poor things. Rent in twain and split in two. My mistress yes, will make you new.
It cackled, but the sound was caught in the blowing of the wind, what passed for its voice bound by its mistress’ command: be silent. So it blew, and the wind rustled the leaves. Ash leaves, ash bark, good and strong, roots deep and branches tall. A large knot had been hollowed out in lifetimes past. A sacred tree. A Way In and Out.
It scrambled up the bark like a cat, flit through the branches like a bird. Leaves fluttered at its passage, wind whirling through the fading red-and-yellow-and-green-and-brown-and-
It hopped off the branches, catching a draft and gliding over the deadwood posts, poisoned corpses of dead trees, giggling silently with glee. No iron was buried here, so these walls could not stop it. The man-things, the mortal kin, had forgotten. Sunlight dappled through it, and it spun, catching a stray dragonfly and whirling it around. The insect staggered out of the whirlwind drunkenly, tiny mind struggling to regain its bearings. Below, the twin-child played with itself, a shrill, trilling sound escaping its pair of throats as it danced on the green, likely celebrating its impending freedom-unity.
Safe, safe I’ll bring you! Through the knothole, you will fit with me. It opened its mouth wider than its body and swooped down with limbs outstretched, heavy enough to fall.
At first, they did not feel it – but why would they, distracted by the wind caressing their limbs and the joy in their little hearts. They danced, until it squeezed and swallowed them whole. The shrill sound rose to a piecing cry, and it covered their mouths with its wings. So eager, though, they continued to try and dance even though it held them firm. Hush! Hush now, mistress requires silence in her demesne! It remembered not to press too hard, for child-things were fragile and easily broken. It had made that mistake before.
The knothole in the ancient Ash grew out of proportion as it bounded through the tiny meadow and through the cracks in the deadwood posts. It lept and flew, catching another draft up to the hole and dove into the darkness of the great tree, barreling down the tunnel at the speed of necessity, twisting and spinning and running along the gnarled walls. The twin-child had ceased its dancing, and it hesitated – but they continued to exchange air, and their eyes peered out, wide with what must have been wonder.
It brushed past the webbing of his mistress’ gardens in full bloom, bursting from another hole in the Ash. Scents filled the air, spicy and sweet and flowery and kind. It rolled through the blue grass, soft as down, and danced up the bark of the Oak and Yew. It was better to be home.
She called. No words, just knowing. It knew, she knew it had returned.
Eagerly, it spread its wings and flew, diving and twisting between the ancient trees to the glade it knew she waited in. And so she was: tall and beautiful and perfect and strong and fair and powerful and cruel and true and great beyond all measure of words or thoughts.
“Release the child.” Perfect lips of blackberry blue commanded it, and it thrilled at the sound of her voice.
It disgorged the twin-child onto the soft grass, whirling about them like the dust devil it was. Its mistress gestured, and it danced away gleefully, stirring up sticks and leaves and tossing them about in joy at its success. The child-things held itself, hand in hand. They got to their feet without a sound or dance, eyes focussed on the mistress and her infinite glory. Too overcome with joy even to speak or move, but tears of wonderment rolled down their cheeks. How beautiful!
It retreated to the edges of the glade after a look from the mistress, but lingered there, eager and watching the miracle of his mistress’ power. In the pale of the full moon, her skin glowed white, clad in woven silk and shadow, dappled moonlight on a clear pond.
“You poor, poor thing.” She purred, so tender and caring. And knelt – knelt! – to the level of the child-thing’s eyes. Such beneficence! The mistress reached out to cup one of the twin’s chin, stroking away the tears with a gentle brush of thumb.
“Rent in two, split in twain, two as one, one as two. Confused and lost…” Nails-like-talons ran down the child’s neck to rest over its beating heart. Thump-thump, thump-thump. It heard the two hearts, beating quick with joy, beating together as one heart should. “…I shall heal you.”
The mistress drove her hand into the child’s chest and removed the heart. It was done in a blink, too quick and graceful for it to follow. Of course, of course! Hearts and souls to beat as one, halves becoming whole! It was curious, for the heart looked whole to it – but what did it know of human hearts? The mistress was all-knowing and all-powerful.
The other child-half opened its mouth wide, shaking like a leaf in the wind, but remained silent with awe as its other half, now empty, crumpled to the ground with the hole in its chest leaking. Bones were funny things, the way they got in the way of movement, even as the body fell to the grass. It wondered why the mortal kin were burdened so, and longed to indulge its curiousity, but another silent command from the mistress held it at bay. This was, of course, the longest part.
It look at long, long time. At times, it watched with rapt attention, though it could scarce understand the mistress’ arcane brilliance. As the moon changed from silver to disc, it frolicked in the blue-green grasses and the leaves of the ancient trees as they faded from green to gold to brown and back again.
The moon continued to change, over and over and over, marking time.
The mistress had done this many times before; her benevolence knew no bounds, in her desire to unite these tormented souls, and it had watched every time. One half was the vessel; the other provided its soul. United as one, two hearts, one soul, one mind. As it was meant to be. But the mortal kin were fragile, mayfly things. Sometimes, it briefly wondered if it understood this more clearly than the mistress, who had never seen a mortal but for those it had brought her. But these thoughts would cause it distress, and it would look upon her and feel joy in knowing all was well in the mistress’ hands.
None had yet survived the process, and this twin-child was no different. The blue grass was stained and matted red by the end, but the ground obediently ate up the blood and made it pure.
In the aftermath, the mistress was frustrated, but it knew what was coming, and had already gathered the pieces for the rebirth. If the mortal body proved itself too fragile, as it always did, the mistress would make a new one. Only the heart of the second twin-child remained intact. That was unfortunate; sometimes, she had both.
The mistress gathered up the reagents it knew to bring to her, and laid them out on the large stump in the middle of the clearing, time-scribed with one thousand and one rings. She arranged the pieces in the familiar way, and whispered in the language of the World. Words-that-were-not-words tumbled musically from her perfect lips, in every language that ever was or would be, and the Tree of the World itself answered.
“Black rat’s eyes and spit of dew,
Cobwebs for hair and flesh of the moon.
Child’s heart beating in a cage of Ash wood,
Honey and milk for bile and blood.
Feral cat’s hiss for instinct and grace,
A mask of clay, to fit any face.
Twine for my blessing, to bind the soul in,
This is my child, my mannequin.”