Keening: Part 8 – Let the Dead Rest

“Alright, just through here.”

Lorcan held the door as Lucan followed him inside, guiding his wife and son, all shutting their eyes tight. The house was completely shrouded in darkness, making the entryway feel oppressively small. The only illumination came from the moonlight shining through the open door, and tiny glimmers from the lamps outside glittering through the shutters. It was cold, and the smell of earth and dust filled Lorcan’s nostrils.

This house had remained empty for years, originally belonging to a young recruit for the Order of the Rose. He’d been a young French lad, recently taken to traveling, seeking his fortune, the usual deal. Supposedly, he’d gotten lost and walked into a circle of mushrooms, suddenly finding himself stepping out of the tree line into Woodland. He’d been very nice, as Lorcan recalled. Energetic, youthful, ready for action, as befits the young. He’d been slain a few weeks after joining, struck by an arrow during a patrol. Lorcan had been awakened early in the morning by someone knocking on his door, telling him a new grave needed to be dug behind the chapel. He’d dug the grave, leading a small service later that day, attended by his squad, still bearing stains of the youth’s blood on their clothes from where they’d carried him. What had been his name?

Lorcan looked back at his nephew, Lysander, being carried by his mother. Lorcan saw through the dim lighting that the boy obediently had his eyes squeezed shut. Adeline clutched her child to her chest, her grip not relenting since leaving Shalemont. He couldn’t blame her; she’d lived through the death and subsequent resurrection of her child in one day, which…well, Lorcan didn’t know how people should deal with that.

That young recruit likely had a mother somewhere. Lorcan wondered what she thought had become of her son. Surely, she would have worried about her son, hoping he’d been safe in his travels, that no tragedy had befallen him. This mother far away that believed her son was probably still in France, perhaps courting a girl, learning a trade. Did she know, somehow, that her son was dead? Was she able to mourn, to weep over her son whose name had been perhaps wholly forgotten?

Lorcan was shaken out of his thoughts by Lucan coughing lightly. Lorcan refocused himself, embarrassed. How long had he been lost in his thoughts? He quickly stepped away from the doorway and strode over to a small fireplace, tucked away in a corner. He knelt next to it, touching his hand to the grate. He focused, whispering an elemental command. A fire sprouted immediately in the hearth, filling the house with some much needed warmth. He stood and turned to his family, plastering a smile on. “Okay! Open your eyes.”

Lucan, Adeline, and Lysander opened their eyes and took a look around. As they took in their surroundings, Lorcan suddenly became very self-conscious of how little he’d prepared. There was a thick layer of dust over the floors and sparse furniture and the roof definitely needed some work, unless Lysander wanted to become an amateur astronomer. Not to mention, this wasn’t exactly MacBroin Manor. Even considering the relative squalor of the house nowadays, it was several times bigger than this place, which was a woodshed by comparison.

“I mean, I guess it’s not what you’re used to. I’m absolutely willing to help fix it up and everything, I didn’t mean to put you in a shack, I just figured it was best to get you out of town, I think that this place can really-“

“Lorcan!” Adeline exclaimed. She held her hand up. “That’s quite enough.” She stepped forward and wrapped an arm around him, sandwiching Lysander between them. “Thank you,”

Lorcan breathed out heavily. “Okay.” He stepped back, his head bowed. He faked a yawn, wiping at his eyes while pretending to cover his mouth. “I, uh…I’ll grab some friends later and we can get your things tomorrow. There’s a bed, though it’s only meant for one, and a few other things I’m sure. We’ll get you properly situated in the morning, in any case. I can show you around the town, pick up some things in the market, get you acquainted with some friends of mine, and…” he trailed away, his mind going blank. “Anyway, I’ll leave you three here for tonight. I need to go back home myself and, um, process some things, I guess. It’s late, and we should all get some sleep.”

Lucan held the door open for Lorcan as he left, and followed him out. “Brother,” said Lucan, “I can’t say I understand any of what’s happened today.” He rubbed his temples, as if confused. “Right after we arrived at that monastery, there’s just a big blank spot in my memory…”

Lorcan shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure if erasing Lucan’s memory of their time-loop was right, but he couldn’t stand the sight of the empty, horrified look in Lucan’s eyes. Lorcan wondered if he should tell Lucan; he never liked keeping secrets, and lying even less, but he didn’t want to risk those memories coming through again, if that’s how it worked. It had felt right at the time, but an itch was forming in his chest, making him feel as if he had done something dishonest.

Lucan continued, “And I really don’t know what to think of that…thing. That mask. I can’t even express how grateful I am to have my lad healthy and alive.” He looked meaningfully at Lorcan. “He- he is…him, right? You don’t think that whatever it was did something…?”

Lorcan shook his head vigorously. “No, no I didn’t feel anything was wrong. Whatever power the mask holds, it isn’t evil. Mind, I don’t think it’s good or benevolent either, but whatever work it did, it did save Lysander. There will be no other effects, and I can assure you it is him.”

His brother smiled and sighed heavily. “That’s a relief, really it is. I know I can trust your word on it.” He gripped Lorcan’s shoulder and pulled him into a hug. “Thank you, Lorcan. For getting us out of that place. For finding us a new home, a new chance at life. The house will be perfect. I’m not entirely useless these days, you know.” He grinned. “I mean, I’ve always been the hardworking one between us. You’ve always just been a bookworm.”

Lorcan chuckled. “As if. A bookworm I may be, but I think Adeline’s the one who actually knows how to do things, between the two of you.”

Lucan pushed him away. “Oh, you shut up. Even if it’s true, I don’t need to hear it. I’m the lord of a failed Irish mining town, and I deserve some respect.”

The brothers laughed loudly, then quickly hushed as some lights were lit in windows around them. They darted between two houses to avoid accusing stares from neighbors. Still chuckling, they waited a few moments for the lights to stop shining out of windows, then returned to Lucan’s front door. Lucan put his hand on the door, then turned back around to see Lorcan standing in the street. “Are you going to be okay, Lorcan?”

Lorcan shrugged, then considered his answer. “I…will be. I will need some time, but I…I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Lucan rolled his eyes. “Very committal of you. I’ll see you tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, with all but your most expensive belongings.”

Lucan chuckled, then pushed his door open and went inside to be with his family. Lorcan looked at the house wistfully for a long moment. Then, he turned and walked silently out into the night.


Years ago, Lorcan had gone around to members of the Order, asking them about their lives before Woodland. You could hardly find a more colorful crew than that which made up the village of Woodland, and the Order of the Rose was a peculiarity among peculiarities. Most members said they didn’t feel like sharing right now, or were otherwise too busy to sit down and share at the moment. Perhaps in time. Kane had answered him right away, as had Shay, after some prodding. A few others after them had written their own stories, which made a fascinating anthology to collect. In the history given to him by Shay, Lorcan had read about a woman long dead, Ellesbeth Peacebringer, and her gravesite. Shay had detailed how her journey to Ellesbeth Cairn had set her on a journey to find inner peace. If anyone would love some inner peace right now, he would.

“Dygwr heddwch, gyda’ch caniatâd, byddwn yn mynd i mewn.”

Lorcan stepped through a shining green doorway into a wooded clearing. He was immediately met with a cool night breeze sweeping across his face, bringing with it the smell of pine and a faint hint of incense. The moon shined brightly overhead, framed by the treetops around him, directing his gaze to the grave in the center of the clearing. There was a pillar of roughly hewn stone in the center of the clearing, surrounded by an innumerable multitude of rocks piled around it. Shay had said that each rock had been placed at the grave by mourners in symbol of the burdens Ellesbeth had lifted from them in life. Ellesbeth must have been well-loved and dearly missed. Beside the stones lay a trickle of water, a very small stream stemming from a bubbling fountain in the earth.

Stepping forward, Lorcan knelt by the stream. He dipped his hand into it. It was cold, almost unpleasantly so, but it left his hand feeling fresh and clean. He washed his hands quietly in the stream, then brought some water to his face, wiping dust from his eyes and cheeks. Last, he cupped his hands and brought the cool drink to his lips.

“What are you still doing here, boy?” said a sharp voice behind him.

Lorcan choked, spitting water and coughing violently. He spun around, falling backward into the stream. Sitting on the rocks, back resting against the pillar, was a wizened woman, eyes staring piercingly at him from beneath a gnarled brow. Lorcan struggled to his feet, trying desperately to get his breath back. After several moments of fighting, Lorcan managed to regain his composure. He squinted his eyes at the woman. “…Ellesbeth?”

“Good guess. I don’t suppose the whole grave tipped you off?” The old woman raised her eyebrow at him. There was a long moment as she stared at him, and Lorcan felt his ears grow warm with embarrassment. Finally, Ellesbeth’s thin line of a mouth turned upward slightly into a smile. “Come here, son.” She patted the rocks next to her.

Not daring to disobey, Lorcan brushed himself off, strode toward the grave, and awkwardly, climbed onto the pile of rocks to sit near the old crone. “I, um, sorry, I didn’t mean to just intrude, I didn’t really expect you…” he gestured feebly at her, sitting slightly hunched.

She waved him off. “You didn’t expect me at my grave? Not sure where else I’d be.” She sighed and sat back, staring at the moon. “Don’t worry about the intruding; you asked rather nicely, if a little formally. That ring of yours wouldn’t bring you here if I hadn’t given permission.” Lorcan relaxed a little. Then, Ellesbeth reached over and smacked him on the side of the head.

“Ow! What was that for!” cried Lorcan.

“That was twofold, kid. First, you’re not supposed to just pop in here directly. There’s a process for this sort of thing, a journey if you will. You can’t just take a magic ring and make a shortcut for yourself because you don’t have the time for a spiritual journey. There’s supposed to be some risk, some danger, some inner turmoil, a little romance perhaps.” She shook her head. “Kids these days with their magic and their instant gratification.”

Lorcan chuckled, confused, but growing more comfortable. “You should write something, if you have such a clear vision of a journey.”

The old woman shrugged. “Meh. Never learned how to read.” She looked over at him, narrowing her eyes. “If you plan on coming back here sometime though, at least have the decency to get lost in the woods for a while, or nearly drown in the river on the way. People always want their soul-searching and self discovery cheap, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to be ready to experience some hardship and fear.”

Lorcan mulled it over in his brain. Sure, why not? If that’s what the lady wanted. He nodded. “Okay, fair enough I suppose. Um, you said…twofold? What was the other thing?”

Ellesbeth reached over to smack him again, but Lorcan ducked away this time. She huffed, but sat back. “It’s like I said, kid. What are you still doing here?”

Lorcan looked at her questioningly. “Still? I only just-“

“Not HERE, boy. I’m old, not stupid. HERE, as in, where YOU are. Where your heart’s at, where your head’s at. You’re stuck in your head, and you’re not letting your heart go anywhere new.” She nodded toward Lorcan’s satchel, which he had tucked away under his cloak. “Take that for example. Go on, show me.”

Lorcan struggled for a moment to understand her words. But, slowly, he reached for his satchel, putting his hand inside. He drew out a stone, a small piece taken from the ruins of the monastery. Ellesbeth reached out her hand, and Lorcan placed the rock in her hand. She took it and inspected it. She looked meaningfully at him.

“You’ve been holding on to this for a long time, son. Longer than you’ve had this rock, you’ve refused to let go of your past.” She switched the rock to her other hand, and rested her empty hand on Lorcan’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about what happened to your friends, Lorcan. Nobody should have to experience loss like that, and especially not over and over again like you just did.” She looked away and glared into the distance. “That Morrigan means well enough, but all she understands is brute force. Never learned any subtlety.” She looked back at Lorcan. “Mothers and fathers lose children, and children their parents. Too many die before they had much of a chance at living, and sometimes, it feels like all the wrong people get to stick around, I guess including us. But, nobody gets to decide how much time they’ve got, or a lot of what happens to them. And I’m sure I don’t need to spell it out for you, but I’ll say it anyway; You get to decide what you hold on to, what you live with, and what you let go. You truly are the only person who gets to decide who you’re going to be, and how you’re going to live, for whatever time you may have.” She handed the piece of the monastery back to Lorcan.

Lorcan took the stone back reluctantly. “I…I think I know what I have to do. It’s always easier said that done though, right?” Ellesbeth nodded. “I know it’s silly in some ways, me holding onto things that happened years ago. Things have happened since then that have been hard too, and I don’t focus on those. Maybe, I wonder, it’s just that I lost my friends at a time where I wasn’t prepared to lose things, or perhaps it’s that loss that made me stronger? More able to cope with loss and change? I don’t know. I just, it’s hard to let go of things that hurt. It’s easier to forget happy times when you’re faced with pain.

Ellesbeth nodded knowingly, her smile becoming rueful. “One of life’s great ironies.” She nodded to the stone. “You can leave that here if you like. No use carrying around another rock with you.”

Lorcan looked back up at her, baffled. “What? This rock is-“

She waved him off again. “I know very well what that rock is. The rock isn’t the source of your troubles, and leaving it here doesn’t magically make things go away. This thing, as a symbol of what you’re holding on to, can be very strong, and very heavy to carry. But in the end, it’s just a rock. Dropping it here or there won’t make a difference. It can’t heal you.” Ellesbeth smiled at him, a twinkle in her eye. “You’re a grown man; you know a rock won’t make a difference, when it comes down to it. Don’t get caught up in the metaphor kid; it is hard to think clearly when you’re caught up in signs and symbols.” She poked at Lorcan’s chest. “That’s where healing comes from. If you’re ready to move on, you’ll know it. You can leave that thing here, like all the rest of these people,” she gestured at the pile they sat on,” and let that symbol help you cement the idea in your head.”

Lorcan closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to let the quiet of the forest seep into him and calm his mind. He heard the faint chirping of insects in the trees. The rich perfume of leaves and the newly-forming dew mixed with the hints of oils and burnt incense hung around him, enriching his every breath. He imagined himself once more on the terrace of the monastery, looking out into the night, friends around him. The images came back to him clearer than ever. He felt regret, horror, and shame immediately well up inside him. He wanted to shy away, grip the rock in his hands as if he could hurl it at his feelings, make them go away. Instead, he pushed deeper, facing his darkness, and pushing past it like a curtain. Beyond it, he only felt one thing: sadness. Sadness for the loss of his friends, his childhood, the knowledge that he would have to grow up, that he, and his life, could never go back, could never be the same.

He looked back at Ellesbeth, who now had a friendly smile further wrinkling her wizened face. Kindness, earlier hidden beneath her attitude of disdain and irritation, shone through her eyes. “All this time,” Lorcan said, “I’ve wanted to go back, believe I could change things, live differently, if only I’d had the chance. Morrigan, through sending me back, showed me that even with greater power, preparation, tactics, there’s nothing I could really do. Even if I could, where would I be now? All the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve had the honor of knowing, I would never have known of. My church, the Woodland Village, making peace with my father, even being there for Lucan and his family, all of that wouldn’t be here. I believe… I believe that whatever has happened, whoever I could have been if things had been different, I can be happy here, and now.”

He looked down at the rock in his hand, and smiled at it. “I don’t need this thing to remember my friends, and be grateful to them. Because of their friendship and their sacrifices for me, I can live my life all the richer for their influence.” He turned his body around to face Ellesbeth better. He leaned forward and gave her a hug, her thin, surprisingly strong arms reached around him and hugged him back. After a moment, they let go.

Lorcan stood up and stepped down from the pile of rocks. He turned one last time to say something to Ellesbeth, but when he turned, she was no longer there. “Thank you,” said Lorcan, smiling fondly at the pillar. He came back around, lifted his hand with the ring, and spoke the incantation to return to Woodland. A soft, dark green light formed the familiar door back home. Lorcan breathed deep one more time, and stepped forward.

Just as he was about to pass through, he let go of the rock.