A Grub With A Chive

Lessie jiggled and wiggled, unsleeping, in the little grovenest Chive had brought for him. The fear of farmer Jak finding them might have woken him early but the possibility of a different life with Chive’s people was so exciting that Lessie felt none of the fear.

A night ago Lessie had awoken to find a strange creature cutting his hair with a scary looking knife. He sat up so quickly that he banged his head on a feed bucket and fell asleep again.

When he opened his eyes he was in a field near the barn where farmer Jak let him sleep. As he lay there all he could see were the stars and all he could hear was the wind blowing some fallen leaves around.

He sat up and saw the creature sitting cross-legged a ways in front of him. It had big pointy ears and scary eyes but the knife was nowhere in sight.

Lessie wanted to get up and run but his body only wanted to sit there and pee. He had always been afraid of farmer Jak and his sons but he’d never been overwhelmed by it before.

The creature lifted it’s small hands to its cheeks and pulled its face up off its head. Underneath the mask was the face of a person; a tiny lady person who was looking him directly in the eye.

She set the mask on the grass next to her and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Chive!”  As she spoke she waved a little hand at him and smiled intently.

Lessie unconsciously mimicked Chive’s smile and before he knew it his fear was gone.

He wasn’t even sure why he’d followed her but when she began to walk it was apparent that he was supposed to go with so he did.

He was now a day’s walk away curled in a ball in a bag hung between two trees. Chive said that the trees his grovenest was lashed to were called honey locust. It was scary dangling in the air but it was warmer and more comfortable than the barn.

“Hop out and walk around if you can’t sleep, Lessie. You are the law of flow and it seems you have things to do,” Chive whispered from her own grovenest a few feet away. “Do you remember how to get out?”

“Ya,” grunted Lessie as he forced his legs up through the top of the bag. His center of gravity shifted and brought his legs to the Earth where he could stand and lift the grovenest up off of himself. It was almost morning.

Chive was already out of her nest picking long brown seed pods from the ground. They rattled as she handed him a fist full. She broke one of them in half and ejected a smooth brown seed into a bag. Into another she put the broken pieces of pod. Lessie followed her lead.

“These are the seeds of the honey locust tree. They’re hard for us to eat but the animals can eat them and we can eat the animals,” Chive instructed. “They’re special in other ways too. When you see your fifth season we’ll show you how to read them to know things you didn’t think you could know.”

Chive had shown him so much on their walk already. There was a lot he didn’t understand but the bits of information that made sense got devoured quickly.

Devoured less quickly were all the edible plants she’d shown him. He savored every stem, leaf and seed.

He even learned what Chive’s namesake tasted like. He’d seen the long green spike of a plant before but never even thought about putting it in his mouth.

He ate a lot of things he never thought of eating on their long walk including a few large white grubs that went down pretty well when chewed with a chive.

“How many seasons am I?” asked Lessie.

Chive smiled, “You are none seasons. When you see the solstice from within the Grove you gain a season.  I was born in the Grove and have been here 35 seasons,” Chive replied. “I am 17 years old,” she declared.

He had no idea what a solstice or a grove was but he was sure he wanted to live there if that was where Chive lived.

“How old are you?” she asked him.

“I don’t know,” Lessie admitted.

“Well I think you’re seven. Seven is a magical number. How does that sound?”

“Yes I would like to be seven!,” Lessie smiled.

“OK so you are seven years old but you haven’t spent any of them in the Grove. When you enter the Grove you’ll begin your first season as a … Universling.”  As she spoke the last word she lifted Lessie’s chin, dropped her own smile and looked directly into the boy’s eyes which began to widen.

His fear returned immediately and the only word he could force through his trembling lips was, “Versling?” in a terrified whisper.

As a slave, Lessie didn’t know much about the world but he knew about the Verslings. They were violent and deformed creatures that lived deep in the haunted forests. They used to be people until their city melted down. Now they could melt you down too just by touching you. He never quite understood what that meant but melting down sounded like a scary thing to happen to a person.

She knew the stories he’d heard about her kind because it was her job to help spread them. She lifted the smile to her face again which visibly calmed the boy.

“I, Universling, promise that I will never eat your flesh, rape you, drink your blood or melt you down. I stole you from farmer Jak because his son stole a hog from steward Authn a while back. I am the law of balance and balance I have brought.

“The night I stole you I put a poppy potion in the Jak family’s gravy. It made them all fall to sleep and have horrible nightmares. That way I could steal you and your stuff in peace.

“A slave is worth way more than a hog and the poppy potion combined. But I, Universling cannot own a slave so I, respectfully, refuse to be your owner. You are now owner-less and a slave without an owner is free,” she winked.

A smile touched Lessie’s lips but faded as he asked, “Will farmer Jak find me?!”

“No farmer Jak thinks you got melted down,” Chive winked again.

“Did you melt somebody else?”

“Nope. We can’t melt people. The melting down is a trick; we use mostly animal bits and Merkin bones,” Chive explained. Then she sang,

I cut your hair
To sprinkle it where
I left a pile
Of bones that were bare.

On top of that
I left some scat
A pile of guts
And a bit of fat.

I burnt the flesh
And scorched the ground
Now they all think
You melted down!

She touched his face softly with a rough hand as she chanted the last line. When his body didn’t melt Lessie’s remaining fears did.

He spent the rest of the morning, harvesting seeds, sipping honey pod tea and asking questions. Chive seemed to have an answer for everything. She called it, “old science,” and some of the answers came in the form of tiny songs she called chants.

Chive explained the Solstice and chanted all about the Earth and why the Sun seemed to move. She chanted about how the stars were all suns that might have Earths spinning around them where other boys might be asking questions about this thing called the Universe.

She said that all of everything in this Universe was made of the same types of stuff just put together in different ways. Chive told him that he was more than just a person; that he was a really a bit of the Universe that could fart and smile about it.

“Can we go to the Grove?” he finally asked. Lessie had never been more excited about a thing in his whole life.

“Yes we can. It is very close but before you go you must learn the first chant. This is one that you say inside your head over and over as often as you can remember to do it. You can also sing it,” and she sang,

…I am the universe awake and aware that…
…I am the universe awake and aware that…
…I am the universe awake and aware that…

“When you’re, ‘aware,’ of something you know about it,” Chive explained. “You are universe that now knows it is universe. That makes you very special. Even better yet, you know that you know.”

Lessie appeared to understand but wasn’t sure he did.

“Now you must learn your second chant. Repeat after me then I’ll repeat myself until you know it,”

Beside the path the Universe walks, a grove begins to grow. You must bring your ego-less soul and your own seeds to sow.

It didn’t take very long for the words to etch themselves into Lessie’s eager mind. Shortly afterwards he asked, “What is an egoless?”

“Ego-less means to have no ego in the same way that you have no food when you are food-less and no owner when you are owner-less.  Have you ever been hurt by words, Lessie?”

He thought about it before he answered then nodded his head.

“The part that hurt when you heard those words is called the ego and it infects every single person. It is also the part that feels fear though not the part that gets scared.

“To find the grove you must walk away from the ego. That is what the first chant helps you to do which prepares you for the second chant,” which Chive repeated.

Beside the path the Universe walks, a grove begins to grow. You must bring your ego-less soul and your own seeds to sow.

“The second chant means is that the grove grows wherever you, Universling, walk and sow seed.

“I have sown seed here so I am in the grove.” Chive offered Lessie the bag of honey locust seeds and asked, “Would you like to sow seeds here?”

Lessie took it and nodded as he wiped his eyes and worked to control his quivering chin.

“While we walk today keep the second chant spinning in your head. Every once in a while take a seed from the bag and throw it in the hope that it becomes a new honey locust tree. Then think of what the tree might look like when it is grown and how you might use it.”

“Hope that you will get to sleep in a grovenest between two of them when they get big enough.

“Hope that you’ll break some branches to burn for warmth on a cold night.

“Hope that you will one day steal a sad boy from a bad man and teach him what I’m teaching you.” She concluded. “Now help me pack up our camp.”

Everything she had fit entirely into her grovenest which she then slung over a shoulder and across her back. She helped Lessie get his packed and adjusted but in the end it was a bit too big. She assured him that he’d grow into it.

As they walked North she showed him more plants to eat, taught him the four directions and explained more old science. They gathered seeds along the way. Chive also taught him more of her favorite chants.

Collect your seed from every height and every micro-clime. Every plant is a useful plant at least some of the time.

Beside the path the universe walks, a grove begins to grow. The land you tread on again and again you’ll quickly get to know.

Beside the grove is the path on which the universling goes. Its power will change and flow and swell as the druid’s grove grows.

The conscious cosmos must take an oath to uphold laws of balance and the limits to growth.

Beside the grove is the path on which the universling walks. As it passes it blesses the beasts and plants to whom it often talks.

The last was Lessie’s favorite so far. He had been talking to plants and animals for as long as he could remember since they didn’t hit you when you ask something stupid or tell you to shut up.

After Chive showed him what writing was and how to count above 50 she taught him some chants the universe had helped her write.

Bring the rain this winter and spring
So the summer the plants can help to bring
The rain this summer and autumn too
So this sacred cycle can begin anew.

Cut only from trees that can regrow.
If we remove the trees the rain will go.
If the rain departs the grove will die
And so will you
And so will I.

Once they got to SotaGrove Lessie would have to join the GroveGen band. They were the people that gardened the haunted forest. Chive’s band was called GroveSec which guarded the haunted forest.

Lessie was not happy about them separating.

Sensing his unease Chive explained, “Each band stretches around the outside of SotaGrove and each band moves around SotaGrove in its own direction. This means that you and I will almost always be on the same path. Even when we’re moving away from each other we will be moving towards each other.”

She continued as they walked, “We move to a different den after each moon and SotaGrove has twelve dens. We are going to den seven which is also my den for another batch of days. Then GroveSec will move counter-sunwise to den 6 and GroveGen will move sunwise to den 8.” Chive traced two circles in the air in front of her; each hand drawing a circle in different directions.

They caught sight of the forest a bit before dark. “That is our garden, SotaGrove,” grinned Chive. “We’re at the very outer ring which is zone five. These are the wild parts that are disturbed the least and are home to all types of scary beast!”

Lessie had worked in farmer Jak’s garden all his life which was nothing like this big, dark forest Chive was pointing at. “Are we going tonight?” he asked. Chive chanted her response.

Don’t place your feet on land meant for growing.
Tread only on paths since they’re meant for going.

“We will go tomorrow morning so you can see where you’re placing your feet. A trampled garden does not grow. Also there are parts of this garden that will eat you if you stray too far off the path.” She warned, unsmiling. “We will camp at the edge tonight.”

They walked till the moon was up and made their camp among some appropriately spaced trees. It reminded Lessie very much of the camp they’d left that morning.

“These trees are black locust. They have smaller pods and no thorns,” she explained as she lashed Lessie’s grovenest between two of them. “We grow these camps all around SotaGrove. I’ll show you a baby one in the morning,” Chive promised.

They’d foraged on prairie fruit all day as they walked but were both still hungry. Chive dug through a bag and pulled out two pieces of dried beef each twice as big as one of Lessie’s hands. She presented one to the boy and tore into her own.

Last year on Jak’s farm Lessie had grown quite attached to one of the kittens that haunted the area. When the farmer’s son Lot took notice he’d caught it, burned it alive and then tried to make Lessie eat it. Other than that one time he had never been allowed to eat meat.

If it weren’t for Chive’s smile he would have started crying.

“You eat. I’m going to go pick some honey locust thorns,” she said and hopped away into the darkness.

Lessie twisted off a small piece with his teeth, chewed just enough to taste it and stuffed the bit of beast into his cheek with his tongue to savor. He put the rest of the jerky into the little leather bag Chive had given him.

When she came back she sparked a small fire which they lounged around for while chatting, chanting and chewing.

“Have you ever heard the story of the Merkins?” Chive asked.

Lessie shook his head.

“Well the Merkins are your and my ancestors who lived hundreds and hundreds of seasons ago. Their story begins with the story of Gaia.

“Gaia is the land we stand upon and dig into. If you were able to stand on the moon and look back at Gaia you would see that she too is shaped like a ball.

“Every minute of every day she is creating new land on one side of the world while she slowly devours land on the other. She powers this process by the fires in her belly which are hot enough to melt rock and iron. Sometimes you can feel her swallowing. Ever felt the ground quake?”

Lessie nodded his head as he chewed.

“While the land moves across the surface of the Earth it is lived upon by plants and animals. When they die their spirits go back into the Earth to form the soil and into the air to form the atmosphere.

“These spirits take care of all of the living things until it is their turn to be brought back as new plants and animals.

“Some very lucky spirits and a lot of evil ones get trapped below ground. The lucky ones get turned into beautiful diamonds. The evil ones aren’t so lucky.

“As they pass through the Earth, Gaia chews them until they become hard, black rocks called coal. Coal is a magical rock that can be set aflame and will burn hot enough to melt other rocks and even iron.

“This coal is what Gaia feeds upon to fuel the fire in her belly that powers the formation of land which begins the cycle anew.

“A long time ago Gaia got greedy and chewed too many spirits into too much coal so there weren’t enough left in the soil and the atmosphere to care for the living things. In turn, the living things began to die and the Earth grew cold.

“If the living things died, Gaia would die and she did not want to die. She had to think of a way to return some of the spirits she had so greedily devoured. She taught the most clever of animals, the humans, the secret of fire and how to find the coal and burn it to stay warm.

“The plan worked, for the most part. The coal was burnt, the spirits were released and life began to thrive once again. This did not come without a price.

“As the humans burnt the coal the evil spirits were released along with the lucky ones. Soon they began to infect the humans with anger and greed. Thus were the Merkins born.

“They burnt coal to fashion tools for digging up even more coal which they used to fashion bigger and better tools for digging even more of the magic rock out of the ground.

“When they weren’t burning coal to get more coal they were burning it to create mighty weapons to protect the coal they had and steal the coal of others.

“They built machines that could raise and level mountains or even bore holes right through them. It could dig new lakes or fill them in. It powered gigantic machines that could speed you and an army across the land faster than any horse could ever go.

Lessie’s sleepy eyes got wider for a moment.

“Through all their digging for coal they’d also discovered that Gaia could bleed. Her blood contained even more magic than the coal did and they called it oil.

“Gaia grew concerned and commanded them to stop only to discover that most of them couldn’t hear her anymore and if they could she was so quiet they considered the command merely a thought. There was a small group of humans who heard her loud and clear but that is a story for a different time.

“The Merkins became powerful wizards that used the oil to perform the most amazing feats of ego-magic.

“The blood was so powerful it let the Merkins see, speak and act over very great distances. They even sent people and messages out to the different suns and planets around the suns. As far as I know nobody ever replied.”

By this time Lessie was obviously nodding off but Chive continued anyway pausing only briefly to tuck a blanket around the boy.

“Anything you ever wanted to taste or feel, ego-magic could produce it. Using oil the Merkins could find a way to take the essence of anything, boil it down into a powder and snort it up their noses.”

“They even had tiny windows they’d carry in their pockets that could show them almost anything they wanted to see and talk to anybody they wanted to talk to.

“They got so used to getting everything they wanted using ego-magic that they forgot how to get the things they needed without it.

“By this time Gaia had grown tired of not being listened to and cursed the Merkins with the belief that the magic came from themselves instead of her blood. She knew that ego would drive them to consume too much at which point the god of limits would take over and do her work for her.

“The plan worked, for the most part. Being greedy, angry and addicted the Merkins used more of the Earth’s blood in the final 22 years of their reign than in all of the history that led to those final 22 years.

“Every magic system that supported them needed the blood of the Earth in one way or another. This worked well while they could take more blood year after year but once the god of limits took over it proved a huge mistake.

“The systems that supported the Merkins slowly began to stop working.

“Convinced that they were the true source of all magic they wasted what oil remained trying to conjure Gaia’s blood out of thin air instead of using it to prepare for life without that magical substance.”

Chive looked over the flames to find Lessie sound asleep under his blanket beside the fire. The rest of the story would have to wait.

She smiled, laid down on her own blanket and hummed herself to sleep.


Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *