UKArchive ID: 36660mitch
Originally published on June 27, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 21: Mother Fern. During the brief respite, Mother Fern makes herself at home and heals Mouse and there is a long-awaited reunion of sorts. Then comes the distant sound of approaching rotor-craft...
Harold found the exotic black-haired Wiccan was exactly as he remembered her from his dream but her presence and beauty all but overwhelmed him as he escorted her to the mail-wagon. Despite his wound, he made her tea as the Scatterlings set about righting the furniture and clearing the debris but their home had been violated with bullet-holes riddling the walls, desks, tables and shelves. Kai was still unconscious so Ibrahim and Saul bound his feet and hands and dumped him none too gently on Harold’s mattress.
Mother Fern sat regally in the only undamaged office chair, her staff laid across her lap and savouring the tea in silence after Harold had made several tongue-tied attempts at small talk. As he retired to treat his chest wound at one of the desks, the Scatterlings sat or stood around her in a circle, staring at her in awe.
Eventually she handed the cup and saucer to Surl who took it without question. “Thank you, dear heart,” she smiled, enjoying the attention. “The tea was delightful, Light-Father. We have had none for nigh on three years in our refuge. The Ferals bring us herb, game and root aplenty but we do not encourage them to go into the towns and cities. My, but look at you all!” she beamed suddenly. “It is such a pleasure to meet you all now that the destinies set in motion by Mother Moss are coming to pass.”
Harold was distraught that the slash and the blood had marred his treasured Grateful Dead T-shirt; an anchor to his past life - such as it was. “What do you mean by come to pass?” he said irritably. “In that dream you sent us - me, I mean - you or that albino Mother with the lion’s-head staff said that Mother Moss could see into the future. I assume she foresaw her own death in that case.”
“She did at that,” Fern said sadly. “We never did appreciate the extent of her power or her willingness to sacrifice herself. Do you wish my assistance with that dressing?”
“No thanks, I can manage,” he said, blushing furiously as his fingers were snarled up with strips of sticking plaster. “Surely, she must have warned you of the plague.”
Fern’s face was grim and haggard as she turned to look at him. “Yes, she did but we’ve fought the Order for centuries and know our enemy well. We’ve never trusted them because of their secret rituals, their hatred of women and their fixation with the Book of Revelation. Alas, they were a healing order and so won the trust of the world whereas we could not. Spurred on by the warnings of Mother Moss, we learnt of the virus and thanks to Professor Farzad, we obtained enough vaccine in time to protect us.”
“What?” Ibrahim exploded. “My father aided witches?”
“He did. I obtained work as an administrator to spy on Exodus and made contact with him. He was troubled and often talked of his children to me. You must be Ibrahim and Bastet.”
“I prefer Bas,” Bas growled. “He had no love for us!”
“That was evident from our conversations, Bas. He was a cold and arrogant man yet he would justify his work with such passion. All he could think about was claiming the glory of transferring genetic immunities into human bodies and ridding the world of all known diseases. A noble aim but I have the power to see into souls - his was a despicable thing of wheels and cogs.”
“He made the Revelation Virus possible,” Ibrahim spat. “I curse him, his name and what he did to us! He and mother were dying because the Order had infected them so that the vaccine was useless yet we nursed them until Saul’s uncle came and brought us here. Do you know what the great Professor said as we left? Not goodbye but ‘you must survive for you are my legacy, my genius.’ Gah! We were his legacy - never his children!”
“He was insanely proud of you,” Fern agreed sadly. “But only as fruits of his intellect not his heart.” She placed her staff on the floor beside her then leant forward to cup Bas’s face in both hands. “Poor child - paraded naked and unloved like that.”
Bas pulled away from her and shuddered. “Don’t speak of it, Mother Fern - I still have nightmares where they make me lap milk from a saucer and pull my tail and my ears. I hated my father. I’m glad the Order killed him – he was a monster!”
“Yet even he could not condone the Revelation Virus,” Fern pointed out. “I saw the horror in his eyes when he spoke of the moment he realised how the Order had corrupted his work. He turned to us and to God for atonement, I think, but only in time to plumb the depths of his own failure and damnation.”
“I do not wish to speak of him!” Bas hissed, baring her teeth. “Everyone here is our true family and Mother Moss was our true mother yet you abandoned her! How could you?”
Fern sat back in her chair and frowned. “It was not by choice, dear heart. Let me explain. With her power of premonition and the information provided to me by your father, we knew that the virus would leave everyone dead and any children who survived would regress into mindless beasts. Moss insisted that we should save as many of the vaccinated children as possible but Professor Farzad had warned us that the vaccine was not perfected. He claimed that many if not all the inoculated children could regress in the fullness of time so we set out to save as many Ferals as we could from the very beginnings of the plague…”
“But what sort of life are you giving them?” Harold objected. “These children were more deserving of your help.”
“Hindsight is the cruellest of all senses,” Fern sighed and they saw tears in her eyes. “We found that if we caught the changes early enough, we could save the child within, Light-Father. If left untreated, Ferals become so deformed that they starve to death. Mother Moss tried to convince us otherwise but we were so blinded by our faith in our craft that we drove her from us. We sincerely believed that we could cure them but after years of effort, we realised that the devilry of the Order ran too deep.”
“Is that why you did not help her when Schimrian came?” Shield demanded angrily, clenching her fists. “She fought them all day then they tortured her to death and we could do nothing except hide in here and listen to her screams. You abandoned her!”
“Looking after mute Ferals has its advantages,” Fern said icily. “They cannot disrespect their elders thus.”
The others paled at the dangerous tone in Fern’s voice but Shield was undaunted. “Why did you not help her?” she persisted. “Why did your Ferals attack our young ones and take away Eliza and Jacob? David was captured looking for them!”
“I would like to know that,” Harold added as he pulled on his ruined T-shirt. “Otherwise why should they trust you?”
“They were my cousins!” Saul burst out. “Were they killed?”
Fern stared intently at Shield who could not meet that gaze. “Why did we not help her, child? Because we have been hunted down mercilessly by the Order until there are only five of us left in the whole world! Our last refuge is hidden deep within the forests two days on foot from here and we did not learn of the Inquisition in time. Believe me or not, child, it is a bitter failure and a loss that we will regret and mourn unto the grave.”
“Not as much as us!” Saul said vehemently. “So why did your Ferals take my cousins after Mother Moss was killed?”
“Be at peace, dear heart,” Fern said, wiping at her tears. “It’s not that we wanted to take them. You see, Professor Farzad was right - the vaccine had not protected them fully and we knew that they were undergoing the changes. No! Don’t deny it! I can see in your eyes that you suspected this. You all knew in your hearts that they would have posed a danger to you had they stayed.”
“I understand now,” Harold sighed, folding his arms. “You left the Children of Exodus to fend for themselves while you tried to cure a far greater number of Ferals. It was a noble effort but I can see why Mother Moss fell out with you.”
“We did not believe her when she told us we would fail,” Fern admitted bitterly, her shoulders hunched and the agony evident in her eyes. “We stopped them degenerating into mindless beasts but within their twisted bodies, the souls of children still reside and there is always hope that a cure may be found.”
“What of Eliza and Jacob?” Saul demanded again.
Fern took up her staff and rapped its base upon the floor four times. A male and a female Feral clambered agilely aboard and squatted at her feet. Dressed in ragged clothes that barely hid their nudity, they gazed up at Saul who came forward and dropped to his knees before them with tears in his eyes. “So these are my cousins?” he whispered in disbelief. “They can’t be – look at their faces!” He leant forward to inspect a cross upon a golden chain about the female’s neck. “Eliza? Is that really you?”
She looked up at him shyly from under her brow ridges, bared her fangs… and nodded. “Sawwwlll, Ulllizzerrr,” she growled happily but flinched back as he reached out for her.
“Peace, dear heart,” Fern said soothingly. “He needs this.”
“Aiiii, Sawwwll, maaeeeeggluhhhfffuuu,” Eliza relented and allowed the hug to take place. “Luuufffuuu. Luuufffuuu.”
Saul held a powerful body made of whip-cord muscles that he knew could easily lift him from his feet but there was that scent to her lank hair that he remembered so well. “Eliza, I love you too!” he sobbed. “David and I looked for you and Jacob everywhere but he was captured by the Tally-men. I couldn’t save him from Redemption and he’s one of them now.”
“Noharrsawwlsfdwoolllaaaawwwllt,” Eliza replied tenderly, patting her cousin’s back.
Jacob shuffled forward and laid a powerful hand on his cousin’s head. “Nharrllgrraahh, miizzzrraaSssaawwll,” he said.
“They love you and say that you did not fail them, Saul,” Fern translated. “We are the ones who’ve failed them. Every Mother on Earth tried in vain to reverse the malice of the Order.”
“So you failed to find a cure but what about Mouse?” Fierce said bluntly. “Can you cure her? She’s dying.”
“I know she’s sick, dear heart, as Jacob and Eliza have watched over you,” Fern smiled, patting two pouches at her hemp belt. “I have herbs from Druidsey which are renowned for curing fevers such as hers but we haven’t got much time.”
“Why?” Fierce demanded. “Is she going to die?”
“By Gaia’s milk, have faith, child,” Fern assured her. “She’s a mouse with the heart of a lion! Listen, all of you. Great storms are moving north towards us but the Great Abbey is already reaching out to avenge their dead even as I speak so you must all pack your things and leave these wagons immediately. Light-Father, could you boil up two pans of water for me while they do that?”
Harold complied as Fern knelt to inspect Mouse closely. “Where are the other Mothers?” he asked. “Are they coming?”
“They are not as fleet of foot as I,” Fern chuckled, placing her right hand upon Mouse’s clammy forehead. “But they will be here soon enough now be quiet all of you – I must see to her spirit. She is treading the paths of the dead because she has endured so much for one so young and is wounded in both body and soul.”
Harold ordered the children to go and start packing up their belongings but Shield refused to obey him and knelt opposite Fern as she whispered in an ancient tongue over Mouse.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Soul searching,” Fern murmured and reached out with her left hand to touch Shield’s forehead with her index finger.
Harold paused at the back doorway as Shield went rigid, her eyes unseeing. “What the hell are you doing to her?”
Fern turned her head to look at him. “You have great skills but no craft,” she said dismissively. “This one needs to embrace her powers, Light-Father, as she will be the last of us.”
“What do you mean by that?” he said but Fern and Shield slowly closed their eyes and remained silent. The inside of the wagon was stiflingly hot as Mouse suddenly groaned in pain and her back arched.
“Fine, be bloody cryptic!” he said grumpily and jumped down. He looked up at the sky at the complex cirrus clouds racing past overhead. “Why is it so freaking hot,” he grumbled, tugging at his T-shirt which was beginning to reek with sweat. “What a world – wet or dry, you stay soaked!”
He clambered into his bullet-riddled wagon and had soon packed up all his tools and stuffed his utility belt and overall pouches with his gadgets. He finished by thrusting the sheath of his sword into the belt. “I wish I’d had my overalls on when fighting that bloody Tally-man,” he muttered to himself. “Then this bloody cut would not have been so deep - and now I’m sweating like a pig.” He laughed suddenly as he imagined what he must look like: a heavily perspiring, overweight technician with a samurai sword tucked into his belt! “God, I’m glad Jackie Chan isn’t alive to see this – he’d wet himself.”
A distant growl of thunder sounded as he stood in the doorway and sniffed at the ozone on the breeze. His skin tingled with static electricity. “Christ, this is going to be one hell of a storm.”
“Forget storm, Light-Father,” Pup called up at him. “Pup all packed. Pup ready to go on adventure!”
“A rucksack and three big knives,” Harold observed as he jumped down. “What else have you got, Pup?”
“Fierce got it for Pup!” Pup grinned, displaying the powerful catapult and the bag of ball-bearings. He spun quickly to release it upwards and seconds later a pigeon fell lifeless from the sky.
“Impressive,” Harold said in genuine awe. “Not so hot for the pigeon though. Never kill creatures without good reason, Pup.”
Pup smiled apologetically. “Pigeons crap on Pup?”
“Still not an excuse,” Harold chided, trying to keep a straight face. All the children were climbing back into the mail wagon bearing heavy bags, rucksacks and spare weapons. He lifted Pup up and then waited for Fierce who was carrying - to his immense surprise - a large stuffed bear that looked hauntingly familiar. “Can I have a look at your bear?” he asked.
“No!” Fierce said, clutching it tightly to her. “This is my Honey Bear. I found it in that old man’s house.”
“What use will it be on the run?”
“Don’t care!” Fierce snapped. “Mother Moss said that if I ever had to leave the Keep, I should take it with me.”
He threw his hands up in surrender. “As you wish but we have to get going once Mouse is fixed up. There’s a storm coming and I bet the Order will be here any minute. Hey, what’s that smell?”
Fierce sniffed at the fumes wafting from the wagon. “Herbs,” she declared. “This is strange - they make me feel happy. I can see the parties in our parent’s house and the rowing-boat.”
“I hope she isn’t chucking magic mushrooms into the brew,” he grunted as he clambered aboard. Fern was applying a poultice to the wound as Shield helped Mouse drink some of the herbal mixture. “That’s incredible,” he exclaimed. “Her colour’s back in her cheeks already. What is in that stuff?”
“Herbs enhanced by my craft,” Fern said as Eliza and Jacob sniffed happily at the simmering pans and gestured to each other. “Comfrey, feverfew and day’s-eye in the poultice and chervil, herba venaris, heather, red clover and honeysuckle leaves in the elixir – the druids called this Diod Anfarwoldeb which is Cymrig for ‘lifeblood of the druids’.”
“Cymrig? We call it Welsh in my world,” Harold noted.
“From a word for ‘foreigner’?” Fern said with some surprise. “In their own land? Here, King John the Sixth inflicted the Great Massacre upon them four hundred years ago. The only survivors of the slaughter were fishermen and miners in the Black Valleys whom he enslaved. Settlers were commanded to live there but they fled believing every village, wood, valley and town were cursed. They renamed it Heofland in the end.”
Harold clutched at his head as a lancing pain shot from temple to temple. “Ah! Land of Lamentation? It doesn’t translate well,” he grunted, dabbing at his nosebleed. “Damn it!”
“Are you ill, Light-Father?” Fern asked with some concern.
“I can speak your language because Mother Moss somehow hammered it into my brain,” Harold said, indicating the blood on his handkerchief. “But if I think about it too much, this happens and I get the mother of all migraines.”
“Your accent is local yet you use some strange phrases. So this isn’t your native tongue?” Fern said, puzzled. “How is this possible? There is no craft in this world that can do that.”
“Well, she definitely brought me here so she must have done this to me. Ah, the pain,” he grimaced. “I don’t think I’m allowed to question how it all happened – I just have to accept the fact that I’m here and I have this destiny to save the Scatterlings. Just leave it for now. Is Shield alright? She looks completely dazed.”
“She’ll be fine in a moment, Light-Father,” Fern assured him. “She had a lot to learn in a very short space of time – it’s not every day you stand before the Gates of Death to draw back your sister’s soul into the land of the living. There,” she explained, laying Mouse down. “I’ve drawn the infection from her wound but you’ll need to keep her on antibiotics for a week or so. She’s too weak to walk just now so she’ll need a stretcher.”
“I think… I can walk…” Mouse said bravely. Her eyelids fluttered open and she looked up at Fern. “What? I just saw you and Shield in my dream! Are you a Mother?”
“Yes, brave heart. Rest now,” Fern commanded gently. “I am Mother Fern and your sister helped me bring you back.”
“How can Shield dive into someone’s soul like that?” Ibrahim said suspiciously. “She’s no Mother.”
Fern glanced at Harold and gave him a half-smile. “Of course she’s not, Ibrahim,” she said, mopping Mouse’s face with a cloth. “Fierce? Would you fetch the belongings of your sisters for me?”
“Why? Shield looks fine to me,” Fierce pouted.
Shield tried to rise but sank to her hands and knees, breathing heavily. “I have no s-strength left in my limbs!” she gasped. “My insides have turned to water. I can’t st-stand.”
“Just do as you’re told, Fierce!” Fern said sharply. “I used her vitality to draw your little sister back from the Paths of the Dead. She won’t be able to move for a while.”
Fierce quailed at the steel edge in Fern’s voice and raised her hands. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” she said and hurried off.
Saul knelt to put a hand on Shield’s shoulder as did Eliza whilst making guttural noises of concern. “She’s trembling. What did you do to her, Mother Fern?”
“I can draw out what they call chi in the Japanese Empire, one’s life-force,” Fern explained slowly, appraising him. “Then I use it to heal others – think of it as the spiritual equivalent of a blood transfusion. Mouse, like many of you, has been wounded by more than fang and knife in her short life, you know.”
Saul was about to ask another question but Bas startled them all by suddenly leaping into the wagon from the roof of his caravan where she’d been keeping watch “We have to run, Light-Father!” she cried out in anguish. “Two rotor-craft are heading this way. They’re coming to kill us! They’re coming to kill us!”
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012,2013
Archived comments for Chapter 21: Mother Fern
Mikeverdi on 29-06-2016
Chapter 21: Mother Fern
Still enjoying the ride mate, it's a pity that more don't comment, but what the the hell, plenty of reads anyway. 🙂
Thanks, Mike. I keep badgering everyone on facebook to read the chapters! You'll like the next one where th kids take on the two rotor-craft. Mitch