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Keeper of the Cedar Oak

Part of a short story duology

By Bri CraigPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 6 min read
Keeper of the Cedar Oak
Photo by Eilis Garvey on Unsplash

Author's Note - The following story is paired with my other story, Maiden of the Butterflies. They are best enjoyed in tandem with each other, but the reader is free to choose the order by which they are read.

I slit the belly of the beast – warm, pulsing thing.

By now, disemboweling these creatures feels synonymous to a purification ritual.

My hand, the altar.

Each fingernail, a ritual dagger.

My heart clenches at the sight, and suddenly, everything emulsifying my insides is expunged and purged with the blood of this hare. The beady eyes look outward, like an old god watching Mount Olympus crumble for the first time.

Small things that they are, these organs grow cold before I arrive at the roots of Cedar Oak. For this sin I will curse my legs for walking through the mud, and I will strike my wrists for wielding the knife too slow. I will wallow at the base of the staunch, thick trunk of my savior and pray for his forgiveness.

The Cedar Oak commands these sacrifices, and I, the humble servant, offer this body willingly.

The body of the hare, for their consumption.

My own body, as their instrument.

They watch me in silence, the tall, magnificent being. I rub the pads of my fingers soft along their bark and unshackle my psalms of confessions. The words pour from between my teeth – first like a dammed river leaking out at the seams – then like a tsunami.

And in the deafening silence, I sob, believing that my Cedar Oak will no longer speak to me, sniveling at the thought of existence without the careful instructions of my guardian.

Until finally, the wind electrocutes the leaves into their curtsies. The branches dip and shrug into a dance of motion and stillness.

The Cedar Oak begins to whisper to me once more, in their deep, Earthy hum.

And here, I fall to my knees in gratitude. I shove the heels of my palms into my eye’s socket. The blood on my hands feels cold and comforting against the burning heat of my flesh. I hiccup and swallow until the voice settles softly into the back of my skull.

You are ready to kill her.

Another tear has slithered down the valley of my cheeks, it drips from my chin, turned rosy by the blood of the hare.

“I will,” I promise the Cedar Oak.

And so I stand once more, dusting the felled leaves from the stained patchwork trousers that coax my legs back into moving. I do not deny the way my joints ache in this constant march. I only plead that they will continue to allow me to press onwards. That they will allow me to perform this one final task for my sovereign spirit. My hands tremble with malnourishment, but they have melted into instruments, honed for this singular purpose.

Kill her.

The blemish of these woods, a false idol of the spirits, packaged in a human’s skin. The current speaker for the forest, a successor born of nepotism and necessity.

The Maiden of the Butterflies.

My body twisted Eastward, anticipating the direction of my new prey, but before I could pounce forward towards my destiny, the low hum called out to me once more.

Do you think me cruel for wishing her dead?

For a moment, my tongue floundered underneath my lips like a carp gasping in the air: wide mouth and unbreathing. I wanted to comfort my Cedar Oak. I wanted to praise their integrity and fortitude. I wanted to swear my allegiance all over again. But these competing praises swallowed each other in transit.

"You have never been cruel," I tell the Cedar Oak. And this is the truest thing I have ever said, and this is the truest thing I will ever say. The Cedar Oak took me in after my mother died, and watched over me when the world was cruel and dark.

So I turn east, and I prowl through the brambles until I reach the river's edge. I crouch by the hungry waters and curl my fingers around a freshly tumbled river rock, smoothed by the turbulence of this unrelenting nature.

Today is the day I will end the blight of this girl.

Today, I will finally fulfill my promise to the Cedar Oak.

Another sound snares my attention away from my thoughts: the water pulses and splashes as another steps into the river. A girl with wispy, gold hair. A butterfly hovers around her, as if threaded to her pinky with string.

The Maiden of the Butterflies.

A poison to the trees, and a courtesan to tradition. I smile at the girl and straighten my spine. She stares evenly at me, through the glassy pools of her eyes, and I wonder if she expected this, like a spiritual inevitability.

And for now, I will be the hand of fate. I hold the dagger that my mother gave me, and I lurch towards the girl. The chill of the water jumps from the stream and mixes with the blood on my arms. I swing my knife, but she ducks underneath with the grace of a swan. She throws her body into my stomach and we both tumble into the river bank. Her hair swings over me like blades of wheat swaying in the breeze. I am stunned by the way she seems to represent everything alive, and yet her lack of adherence to our roles is the very reason I am here.

She pries my mother's knife from my hands and tosses it into the water. Tears well up in my eyes, but I gasp and swallow my saddness. I need to focus.

"You killed them," I screech, struggling under her knee.

"The only killer here is you," Her glassy eyes linger on the blood staining my sleeve. I recognize the sneer on her face before it blossoms to fruition. She judges me for my role in this forest - and this is how I know she is truly lost.

Life and death are cyclical entities in these woods. The leaves that die nourish the undergrowth and sprout new life from the carcass of the decaying animals. There must be death to make room for life. And I am here, to carry the spirits of the woods to their final resting place by the roots of the Cedar Oak. This is why there are two speakers for the woods, a Speaker of Life and a Speaker of Death.

Our Father had been the Speaker of Life. Our mother, the Speaker of Death. I was supposed to follow after our mother, and return the spirits to the earth. She was supposed to follow after our father and coax the blossoms from the thawed ground.

But she had been ignoring her role.

And thus I was to remove her.

There needed to be balance once more.

I forced myself upwards, kicking the water up in a spray of icy mist. My hands grasp from whatever they can find, be it hair, skin, or her neck. I clutch her throat and can feel her blood pulsing beneath my grasp. I can feel the bobbing sensation of her swallows.

And then she strikes me.

My body betrays me, and sinks underneath the surface of the river. Everything around me feels both hot and cold. My chest flails against the dizzying sensation of being alive. I cannot seem to find the surface. I cannot seem to pull myself to the air.

I cannot see anything clearly, except for the face of my lost mother.

Who loved me very much.

***

***

Thank you for reading this story! I had a lot of fun with the challenge of writing one story from two different perspectives. If you're interested, you can find the other half of this story down below:

Short StoryFantasy

About the Creator

Bri Craig

Bri Craig (she/her) is a variety pack writer. She enjoys writing poetry, webcomic features, humor, short stories, and personal anecdotes. Basically, neither of us will ever know what will be posted next!

Let's connect! More about me here.

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Comments (3)

  • Esala Gunathilake2 months ago

    Oh I am glad to find this story.

  • Unknown Person4 months ago

    useful content

  • Betrayal, regaining of trust..., so is the Cedar Oak unforgiving, deceived, deceitful, vengeful, lying or something else? And the deaths of their mother & father, what of that? How did it happen? Who if anyone was responsible?

Bri CraigWritten by Bri Craig

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