The foothills of Brest, home to flak and faun and brick and braun—and as peaceful a place as peace could place in peace, since pieces became places and peace took place. The foothills of Brest in Upper Lullwater, the County, the Island, as all counties these days are islands, notwithstanding Islets dotting and allies doting.
Something was not right.
The Countess was thus apprised with trying pries and crying eyes, of lies she wished were lies but weren’t, little truths lying about, outsized, for only blind gods to recognize. And so at length went she to the Count, whose county lay to the north, or thereabout, separated by an expanse of sea, or not, as far as anyone could see.
“What can it mean?” said she. “Oh what could it mean, my Count, my love, my soul in me? Assuredly these lies deceive our eyes, so why, oh why cry foul or faun or for brick or for braun?”
The Count’s teeth were tight through clench’ed jaw, his stomach tense and hands were claws.
“Surely it is naught,” she nodded, “or nothing.”
The Count’s lips could but yield a right prayer to the blind gods, or a promise of same, and a vow to fight right there against any odds. And worry set his guts aflame.
“The blind gods will understand,” said the Count. “The blind gods will have a plan.”
“I accept this,” said the Countess.
“The seedlings have come,” said the blind gods. “They infest the foothills of Brest. Pests who infest, and wrest. A great test; the greatest—for seedlings never rest.”
“Alas!” said the Countess. “It cannot be! For mine is a peaceful County, and we are kind in every sense. How have I drawn seedlings around me? For what crime do they come? For what kind of petty offense?”
“Our wisdom and our hunch in this,” said they, “you must trust: Not every punishment is just. And the end shall ever be ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”
“The seedlings are here, then, truthfully?” said she.
“The seedlings are here, and will not go easily.”
“Alas and alack,” said she, and clutched her Count.
“Harass and attack!” said he.
“These things we can do,” said the gods. “But one should know it’s good to go to war with care, and wanting nothing but to heal well, and follow through, we shall wield hell, and hollow you in bones and blood, but cleaned. For this, you’ll need to hope and bleed. We call upon our Science for this useful deed. Our truthful creed.”
“To war!” cried the Count.
“To war,” wept she.
A wave of soldiers arrived by sea.
The Attax, so called, grizzled and stout with might, dull black armor which doused the light, drooping helmets worn loose, black halberds worn with use. Their presence sucked the fine out of the day.
“Menace,” said the Countess, to the boots of the trudging vanguard. But none seemed to notice, and mute, they continued flooding inward.
“They say little,” said she.
“They cannot speak,” said Chemiclous, the medicine man, who was a blind god and seedling enemy.
The Attax flowed in from the sea.
“Stop!” yelled the Countess, to countless.
The Attax would not heed.
“The foothills lie yonder!” she pointed, in duress.
“The Attax cannot hear,” said Chemiclous.
“Cannot they read a map?” asked she.
“And neither can they see,” said he.
“Then how will they know just where to strike?” complained the Countess.
“The Attax can smell life,” explained Chemiclous. “Attax can smell the seeds in you, the source of good and seedlings too, where seedlings seek to stop your breath, Attax will stomp them all to death.”
No sooner had Attax dispersed into the wailing County, than a second set of ships disgorged a second set of troops, gaily mounted.
The Precious, so-called, disembarked at speed, and their platinum weapons gleamed atop trusty steeds. They, too, without instructions, spread out in all directions.
“Stop!” said the Countess. “The foothills lie yonder!”
“Terribly sorry,” said the captain, a gentleman of the Precious. Then he smiled a sickly smile that made her wonder.
“Will you find the seedlings?” asked she.
“We shall smite life,” said the captain. “We shall fight and strife, I quite assure you. And we shall blight seedlings as we always do.”
“I dearly hope your words are true,” said the Countess.
The Countess sobbed.
Reports came in from near and far of pain and death and rips and scars, no part of the Isle was left to be, and foothills swarmed with enemies.
“Make it stop!” said she, “Oh make it stop, or step well aside!”
“It cannot stop,” said her Count, ever by her side. “There is no time.”
“There’s time for pain, then, Count of mine?”
“The seedlings must die before they spread—”
“Spread into what? Into myself? Into my head?”
“This is what the monsters hope: to visit you and leave you dead.”
“They touch me now, I’m sure it’s true.”
“We’ll slay them or they’ll do for you.”
“Must we waste all my County then, verily?”
“We must save your Isle, my Countess—and scarily—”
“My Isle is wrecked indiscriminately!”
“—to save yourself, you see—”
“But why do they blast my Isle entirely?”
“The Attax? It’s because they cannot see.”
“And the Precious, my dear, strike everywhere.”
“The Precious, I fear, might not much care.”
And so havoc ran free.
And everywhere the leaves fell from the trees.
The port was ragged from use and abuse, each week with waves of ships and troops, long past when the County had had its fill, the Countess herself fell badly ill.
“Will the seedlings ever go?” said she. “Will it be worth the heavy toll?”
At last the waves of ships did cease, and the soldiers finished their cruel business. And the Countess rested without peace, fearing the soulless seeds which put her through this.
“What is next, my Count?” said the Countess, full of dread.
“Next is to rest and heal, my dearest, next is to lie abed. For Lullwater has been ravaged by attack and Attax, and made hellish with Precious, and much, too much of it now lies dead.”
“I betray my Isle, my County, all that I am to this ruinous hatred. Tell me, oh Count, will our foe be truly eliminated?”
“They will be,” said the Count. “The blind gods assure me.”
Then Cleavulous appeared, the carver, who was a blind god and seedling enemy.
“The foothills of Brest must be destroyed,” said Cleavulous.
“They have been destroyed!” said the Countess. “Your Attax and your Precious slew brick and braun, murdered flak and faun, felled the trees, stung the young, slew the babies.”
“The soldiers of Chemiclous did these things and more, I am sure,” said Cleavulous. “Yet the foothills stand. A source of seedlings, still at hand.”
“The foothills must be razed, then, it’s true?” asked the Count.
“And some surrounding areas, too,” said Cleavulous, unfazed.
The Countess, dazed, then said, “My Count, I will do it for you.”
Such rending devastation was too much for the Countess to bear, to be sure, so they sent her a sleeping preparation, and she was aware no more. Nor could the Count stand the pending mutilation, and more, for his hair he tore, and at God he swore.
For a brief while, he left the Isle.
The Count brought news to the Islets: The destruction had been great and would grow greater, but seedlings were the prey of this bold show of hatred.
“If the seedlings are all so lately dead, then why must we press so bravely ahead?” asked the youngest prince of the Islets.
A tuft of hair stood on his wavy head; the Count smoothed it down and sagely said:
“It may never be truly known, if seedlings are ever truly gone.”
And in the prince’s blue eyes, tears of understanding duly shone.
“Then when, oh when will destruction end?” asked a princess of the Islets.
“When will our mom be free to mend?” asked another, visage smile-less.
“When the habitats have all been destroyed, which seedlings could possibly live or take root in. When the weapons have been all deployed; when there is nothing left for the blind gods to ruin.”
“After the blind gods put all the hurt in her—”
“—to save her!”
“—then the seedlings, they may still persist?”
“The odds shall be in our favor, our friends the blind gods will insist.”
“What are these demon seeds?” wailed the princes and princesses of the Islets, as one.
“The wreckage is so great,” said the Countess, “that I barely recognize the County. All is in a wretched state. I can barely look around me.”
“The County survives,” said the Count. “Let us consider that first.”
“The foothills of Brest have been razed to the Earth.”
“I’m sorry, my love, but what’s worse? This, or creeping death? This, or rolling hearse?”
“As is my curse.”
“You have done a brave thing here, surely.”
“All the trees are felled, and the ground is scored deeply. Life itself has been chased from the County.”
“And yet it lives on,” said he. “And yet you live on, powerfully! You see, in time your Isle will regain its former splendor and more,” said the Count. “Of this I am sure.”
“What is left, my Count? I don’t know anymore. What is left of my Isle, of my life? They’ve ruined your wife. Why still visit these shores?”
“I’d sooner trade my life for yours, than abandon this course.”
“And now I’ve moved you to tears. What is left? And what is real?”
“What is left is the future, my dear. And what is left right now is to heal.”
“Will the seedlings be chased off of us, then, will they leave indeed?”
“The blind gods make no promises, but they do believe we will succeed.”
More soldiers came to Lullwater Bay: fearsome devils done up in red, with spik’ed tail and horn’ed head.
And you would think there was nothing left to chew, on the Isle, but the devils, they knew. The devils chewed deep, where seedlings might yet lay and where children of the Isle might yet sleep and pray. And in so chewing they hollowed and gutted and snapped the lines of love and will, all hope to spill, and spirit kill, and this done, they chewed still.
“Let it end,” begged the Countess. “Let my Isle return to the sea. Let me die now. Please, my Count. Please let God take me.”
“No!” said the Count. “I cannot believe it’s true. We must see this through, for we are nearly done, and battle won, and soon will come new rays of hope, and we’ll un-neck this seedling rope. Pray, my Countess dear, hold fast, stay strong, and do not fear. The blind gods are rarely wrong, and I, your Count, am always near.”
“What is left of me to see or feel or hurt or steal? Of this torture spare me, and I to the mortuary—while I can still feel, my Isle and body thrown broken from the wheel. God above, let me die well.”
“No, my love,” said the Count. “Survive this hell.”
When the devils did at last depart, having clove her Isle and soul apart, with wickedness to rival none, but still the job was not yet done, the Countess found strength beyond strength, and crawled back up, at length.
“I live for you,” said she. “And the Islets too. May we and they pray to see a better day.”
“I live for you as well,” said he.
A new blind god entered the scene, he radiant with deadly sheen.
“I attack from above,” said Gammaradius. “My rays are invisible, indivisible, willful, permissible. If a single seedling has survived, then of its life it’ll be deprived.”
And the rays came down, sicker than the sun, baking the Isle and crisping it too, and the Countess was tired, too tired to run, too tired to cry, too black to be blue.
“Does it hurt much?” said the Count.
“It does and doesn’t,” said the Countess. “To watch my Isle done in by armies bent on death alone, to feel the pain within my bones, my nausea a constant pit, dying bit by bit, no longer whole. With what else can they whip my body and soul? I feel old. But fatigue, my Count, fatigue and burns are the only toll.”
“Then time will pass and rays will fry, and days go by and then, eventually, the end will be nigh.”
But the Countess was asleep again, then, high up in her castle bed. Safe for a time from the horrors ahead. Safe from the seedlings and their evil enemies, dreaming of peaceful times.
It was over before they knew, and all that the blind gods could do—had been done! And bells were rung and ballads sung.
Months went right by, with uneasy hope all around, until Gammaradius pointed his bright eye at Lullwater, and checked his seeing scope, and claimed: “There are no more seedlings to be found!”
But what did it mean, she asked the Count, and since god nor man could truly see, they chose to agree with the notion, and had a little celebration. Oysters were retrieved from Lullwater Bay, and Champagne sent in from far away.
And he gazed at his Countess, then, all beaten. Her County was rubble, incinerated. The champagne was drunk and the oysters eaten. The Count and the Countess celebrated.
More months did pass and she pushed stubborn foreboding away, and she struggled with it every day. “Are the seedlings well and truly gone?” she would say.
“We must move on,” said the Count.
“Yes, we must,” said she, examining some sapling trees. But she trembled and asked him, “Can we be out of this? Truly?”
More months passed by then, nervously.
Onculous came again, with G, who pointed his lights again at she.
“The way ahead is wide and clear,” said Onculous. “The seedlings have died or fled in fear. Now go, rebuild your life, forget this strife has ever come to pass, rebuild your Isle, forget your damnable seedlings, at last!”
And this time they did truly celebrate, a time of gifts and ringing bells, the Count and Countess marked the date, the princes and princesses marked it well. They sang and danced and combed the trees, and gazed at Lullwater bay. As if the world were really theirs, their family born again this day.
And they cried, and they shouted, and rejoiced.
The Countess strummed her new guitar, a celebration from her Count. And in his eyes she was a star; she treasured it a great amount.
“But why is this so difficult,” said she. “To place my fingers on the strings, to strum this thing, to make notes sing?”
“Unclench your hand, my dear, and see,” said he. “Music should flow easily.”
By force of will she made it better, relaxing fingers with great effort.
“You will improve, my dear, take heart,” said the Count. “These things are trying at the start.”
Improve she did, but not for long, for clenching muscles stiffed her song.
“Why is the guitarbullygut?” said she.
“I’m sorry, what, what?” said he.
“I’m having wordle trubbs and play, to press the gillygubs this day.”
The princes applauded anyway.
“Something is not right,” said he. “We must to the blind gods, to look and see.”
And so she went to Onculous and G, who scanned her, and examined her, and found disaster there.
“The seedlings have returned,” said they.
“How can it be!” said she. “You said yourself the Isle was free!”
“The Isle is free, that’s true you see, but they’ve spread to the Countess herself, and she—”
“How can this be!”
“The seedlings are in her. The seedlings are in her strongly.”
“You must save her now,” said the Count. “And cut these cursed monsters out. For without the Countess, our lives are worse than hopeless.”
“We cannot use the knife,” said Cleave. “A seedling rout would end her life. For in her brain they lay about. We’ll work for time, while time runs out.”
“I don’t want to die,” said the Countess. “I want to see my young ones grow and thrive.”
“I’m so sorry,” said the Count, countless times. “I would take your seedlings and die in the blink of an eye, if there were any way to try.”
“I don’t want to die.”
Then Gammaradius came and blasted her again with rays, and the Countess fell ill in devilish ways.
“She won’t wake up!” said the Count. “I fear you’ve killed my wife this day.”
They came and took his wife away.
The blind gods worked urgently, as she lay.
And the Count trod nervously; he could do naught but watch and pray.
And his Countess, so tough, she somehow found the strength to stay.
“I live, my dear, for you and they,” said she. “The gods have seen to death’s delay.”
And all then knew the time was short, and soaked her up.
And at the port: The lines of friend-ships there did stay, in hopes to see her any day, in hopes to help in any way.
“The seedlings are once more on the run,” said Gammaradius. “Our rays sear them like blazing suns.”
“Give me ten years more,” begged she. “To watch my princes and princesses grow. And time for them to have… me.”
But Gammaradius shook his head, said, “No. You ask for that which none can do.”
So she fought on, and they fought on, and she taught them a lifetime of learning, or so she tried, she tried in her yearning, tried to leave them well prepared, her final pride, her final giving.
And in that dismal time, they were surely living.
The seedlings hurt her, then, this notwithstanding. They began to stave her in. They began to wreck her freely.
But still the Countess lived and loved, her strength and spirit unbending. Still she spread her joy so easily.
“I don’t want to die,” she would tell the Count at times, and he would agree.
But she hurt, and ached, and nothing worked, her thirst unslaked, and the Isle itself shrunk as death slunk in and plunked itself down around her. And they watched, the Count and the little ones, they stayed and watched, as the seedlings took her away, bit by bit, day by day. The seedlings took away everything that she had to do, and everything that she had to say.
And even then her loves would not believe, could not begin to grieve, for the loss that lay so soon ahead.
She lay abed.
Unable to eat or drink or move or think, or even pray.
And her eyes pointed different ways.
Our Countess was at the end of days.
And knowing this, that all had failed, the Count laid his head upon her breast and wailed, long and deep and endlessly, in dread, until the Countess, she—she found the strength to move an arm, to move a hand, to caress his head.
“What’s wrong, my Count? What’s wrong?” she said.