Chapter 1 : Icarus in Mourning
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It was a Thursday; rather stereotypically, it was raining. The bell on the church began to ring – once, twice – the sound muffled by the drumming on the rooftop and on the ground, echoing around the graveyard, extending on into the new hour. A crow, dark feathers turning to ink in the rain, cawed and flew over to nestle underneath the wing of a carved angel, hands clasped together in prayer. The wind ghosted along the tops of stones, glowing white, picking at poppies and roses left in the ground, before rising and reaching to run through soft brown curls, as though welcoming a friend or a wayward child.
In a way, perhaps he was.
He came often, this young man – once a week, like clockwork. Every time he came, it was with a different hair colour, different clothes, different shape (one time, he had been barely a foot and a half taller than the gate at the entrance; another time, he had had to stoop under the boughs as he passed), different flowers in his hand. It didn’t matter what face he wore, though, they always recognised him.
They watched as he made his way through the clustered stones, head bowed against the wind and the rain. This time, he was tall and slender, with a bouquet of hand-picked daffodils in his hand. A few yellow petals, ripped from their heads, fluttered to the ground behind him. Hansel and Gretel’s trail, for mourners and lost lovers.
He stopped in front of a grave, untarnished as of yet by time, and carefully, reverently, placed the flowers down, brushing the corpses of last week’s offering to one side. Then, his knees cracking audibly, he stood up again, gazing down. Water ran down the side of his face, burrowing underneath the collar of his coat, but he didn’t shiver, didn’t even move.
For three long minutes, he just stood there, standing and saying nothing, doing nothing, before he swallowed, turned on his heel and left.
On the grave, the daffodils drown.
They sat there, patiently counting down the days, hours, minutes, until he will return – because he will, he will, he always does – while the world marched on around them. Occasionally, one of them, youngest and least wise, glanced over towards the grave, where the yellow petals started to wilt, their edges curling, blackening and shrinking. It was, she thought, beautifully sad.
Many others came to visit: men, women, children, most of them clutching flowers or tokens of a kind. A lot of them cry, ugly and ungainly, and they can only sigh in silent disapproval.
Why mourn death? It is only an ending, and not all endings are tragic.
The family of the girl in the daffodil grave came, grim and unnaturally aged, at the weekend. The mother cried, a hand wiping furiously at her eyes; the father didn’t make a sound but his eyes shimmered in the sunlight. The brother – for there was a brother, they know, he visited once when the grave was first made – was not there. He hadn’t come since the funeral.
When the family left, there were roses on the grave, pale pink and peeking out of their buds. Around them the air rippled; an enchantment to preserve. The roses were meant to last, as much a memento as the stone itself.
They took the flowers; adding them to the bower surrounding them and watched as the stems wound themselves in amongst the others, wrapped flower-heads jostling for sunlight.
In the corner, the wheel turned ever so steadily, and they waited.
The next time he came, it was only a short visit. Disappointment and guilt clung onto the coat he wore, radiating off him in waves. It stirred things, set flowers to whispering and the birds to staring, open-mouthed. Above him, the sky was a dark, angry blue, the stars hidden and the moon veiled; even the world, it seemed, felt the weight of the burden he carried.
Bending down, his robes crushed underfoot, he lingered over the dead flowers, halfway to dust, before there was a quick jab, a brief flash of light, and they vanished. He didn’t conjure any more, though, and there were none in his hands; instead, he stayed there, hunched, fingers tracing delicately over the name carved into the stone as though in touching it he could reach the girl who lay beneath it.
Behind him, an owl hooted. He jerked, hand skittering along the stone. In a second, he was back on his feet, turning, running away and out of the graveyard.
The owl hooted again, the gate clanged shut, and then it was over.
“He did not bring any flowers,” the youngest commented idly, one hand on the wheel as it spun. Her eyes and her mind, though, were far away, unseeing and unaware. “He should have.”
Her sisters, older and less prone to bursts of impulsiveness, exchanged a look. They were too old, too detached from the world, and, perhaps, too knowledgeable to consider this important. Humans place importance on the little things – roses or lilies, gold or silver, a word said or not said – because to them, they are important. The bigger picture, the rich tapestry all life feeds into, is not for their eyes to see.
In the end, they know the flowers will make no difference.
Catching the glance her sisters shared, the youngest blushed, hating the constant reminder that of the three of them, she alone was cursed with emotion and feeling in the style of the mortals. Bowing her head, her fingers stroked over the head of a pink rosebud, drawing a thread from out of its mouth.
There were flowers on the grave – indigo bluebells, dark and soft in the night. He had arranged them, they saw, or tried to, and their heads bobbed in the light breeze which carried through, trailing through the grass.
He was sitting there, cross-legged, and he was crying. There was no sound, no movement save for the slight shaking of his shoulders, simply a stream of tears trickling down his face from underneath closed lids. It was ugly and ungainly and yet, there was a strange sort of melancholic beauty about it; a strength written though it, as though he was a statue where the paint has not quite dried, and has run, chased by raindrops.
For nearly ten minutes, he sat there and they regarded him, all with blank fascination. His hands were clenched together in his lap, the bluebells at his feet, his long hair covering his face. He seemed unashamed by weeping, unafraid that anyone might see him, though there was the sense that, within him, something had simply overflowed, grief steadily rising, and he was emptying it out. It was the first time, in all his visits, that they had seen him cry.
Perhaps he would have shed tears at the funeral, as the family had lowered the coffin – yew with golden handles and a pile of narcissi on top – into the earth, but he had not come then.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered eventually, and it was less of an admission of guilt than it was a confession of feeling, of emotion, of consequences of actions taken, in the hope that somewhere, somehow, she was listening and she forgave him. “I’m sorry. I miss you.”
After he left, they sat there, the only sound the faint whirring of the wheel and the occasional snip of scissors through thread. Around them, the air was still heavy, moody; clouds gathered, grey and fat, and the rain which came was light and made of small, pearl-shaped drops. They splashed onto the bower, dripping off the petals and the leaves.
“He was not afraid,” the youngest tells the others, something like amazement in her voice. “He cried and he mourned – but he was not ashamed of it.”
The breeze twanged a thread as it flew past, then a trio of them, producing a distant, harsh chord; the middle sister glared, and it all stilled within an instant, the remains of life in the graveyard scarpering.
“He is afraid,” the middle sister replied, linking two threads together with a single, fine string of spider-silk. “That is why he comes at night. The day does not hide shame; the night allows him to show it.”
The bags under his eyes were deeper that week, seeming almost to stretch down and across his cheeks, making him look elderly beyond his years – though there was always the possibility it was part of the disguise – and he sported an unusual, thoughtful expression as he placed the pink carnations down onto the grave.
It was raining – the kind of light rain which seeps through your clothes, soaking you through and freezing you to the bone – but he was there in only a t-shirt and a black cloak which trailed at least a foot behind him. In the hollow ground, water gathered, mixing with dirt and trampled grass; the mixture clung to his clothes and shoes, splattering up the sides of his trousers and the inside of the cloak. With the shaggy deep brown hair and scraggly beard, he looked lost and alone and miserably pensive.
“I think I’m falling in love with her,” his words were soft and apologetic, nearly lost to the drumming of the rain on the headstones. “She’s not you – she’ll never be you – and I know… I didn’t want to be there. I’m not sure I want to love her. But I think it’s happening anyway.”
He fell silent then, eyes darting round the cemetery as though expecting to be being watched; they saw his eyes pass over them and back to the grave.
“I’m not happy,” he added, a sigh drifting onto the wind. “But I think that maybe, maybe I could be, you know?”
The carnations twitched under the rain, but the girl in the grave did not reply.
Adjusting her long, green skirt to keep it out of the rain – a vanity thing, she knew, for she could hardly get wet, could she? – the youngest watched him leave, absent-mindedly picking the next string for the wheel out of the air, tugging and pulling until it slithered into being.
“Poor man,” she said out loud, feeling a twinge in her heart, and not for the first time wishing that she did not have to witness such suffering. “He is always unhappy.”
“Happiness is not his destiny,” the middle sister, fingers running through the threads as they came off the wheel, replied, calm and cool, spider-silk curling up one arm for when it was needed.
The youngest sister, safe for once from the scrutiny of the elder two, nodded, turning back to her work. In the mess of threads around the wheel, she could see the pink thread she’d taken from the rosebud – soft and gentle, like lambs’ wool – and she thought that happiness may not have been his destiny, but destinies can change. She did not say anything, however, merely biting her lip and tying a thick, green thread to the end of a pair of others, letting it flow out of her fingers to start spinning.
It was only ten minutes to two – so he was before his time – but he came rushing through the graveyard with quick, long steps nonetheless. He seemed, to observing eyes, to be lighter that week, energy injected into him and a gleam in his eyes they had not seen before. Amongst the praying angels and the effigies to long dead ancestors, he looked out of place, happy in a place of death, and not because of it.
Still, he made sure to lay this week’s flowers, magenta zinnia, down on the grave, and then, then he paused. The old melancholy, thick and bittersweet, swept up again, and it seemed as though the change was not necessarily permanent.
“Vic’s pregnant,” he said, his voice coming out strained. “Only three weeks along, the healer says, but she and her mum are pretty sure. I can’t tell – at first I thought she was lying – but she showed me the tests. She’s having a baby; we’re having a baby.”
There was a silence, loud and rudely impatient, and he bobbed anxiously in place, rocking back and forth on his heels. His lip, clamped between his teeth, seemed to want to be curving upwards, but the constant ticks in his hands betrayed his nervousness.
“I’m happy,” he blurted all of a sudden, the words ringing through the graveyard with a discordant air. “Happier than I have been since you…” he broke off and looked at the ground, scuffing at it with the toe of a shoe.
Guilt crept in again, resting a hand on his shoulder, a constant companion now and doubled in strength since last time. In the distance, the crow in the belfry of the church caws once, twice, three, four times, a trumpet in the night.
“If it’s a girl,” he told the grave, and there was a sincerity, a desperation in his voice which stung. “I’ll name her after you. For you, I mean. She’ll be for you.”
“How appropriate,” the youngest murmured, looking out at the flowers as time harries them, their once-round heads cracking and breaking, falling to pieces on the grave. “Lasting affection.”
The eldest, the shorn ends of threads drifting towards the ground at her feet, did not look up from her work, the scissors flashing silver in the starlight, to say,
“Foolishness. Nothing lasts. It is merely an illusion.”
The youngest frowned, her face wrinkling as she considered that – and wondered whether her sister meant the flowers or the affection were the illusion – but the tone of finality, of ending in her sister’s words stopped her throat. There was nothing more to be said when her sister spoke as then, the weight of the ages in her voice, layered with the simple wisdom of truth.
In between them, the middle sister ran a thread through her fingers, testing and probing, and frowned. Something had changed there; it had thickened, strengthening. This was nothing new, it had happened before, but the power to do so was hers and hers alone; destiny was not so easy to change as simply deciding to change it.
She took a glance at the zinnia on the grave, calculating and wondering, silently and angrily lamenting the newfound arrogance of mankind.
The next week, he did not come.
On the girl’s grave, the carnations died and rotted, their pink petals losing colour, hardening and crumpling in on themselves as they withered, and then fell off, lying where they had fallen. Ants, sensing their presence, crawled over the stone to get to them; flies came and went, hovering now and then, as though scouting for something.
It was a beautiful night: starlit, moonlit, the edge of the sky bearing the faintest hints of the dawn to come, blue and red and purple. Daisies blossomed in the grass, and the crow, high in his belfry, cawed only once.
The three sisters did not notice his absence; the wheel still spun and the scissors still cut. Time, as always, passed them by.
Spring was blending into the start of summer, dry and sunny, the nights growing shorter, when he next arrived. In his hand, he brought a bunch of purple hyacinths – freshly picked, with the last sprinkling of frost clinging to the petals – which he laid on the grave after vanishing the remains of the carnations, dank and destroyed.
A blackbird sang a few short notes on a branch of the tree above their bower, and a squirrel darted across the graveyard, stopping and starting every few feet, tail bobbing behind it. There was a sense of life growing and returning, blooming with the buttercups and the daisies in the grass. Spring had only provided renewal in death, in moving into summer, and with it there had come hope and light and happiness.
He was wrapped in a thick, red jumper, hand-knitted and bearing a ‘T’ on the front, tall and muscled that day so that the stitches stretched and creaked with each move he made.
“Something’s happening to me,” he whispered, secretive, to the girl in the grave. All around him was bountiful, plentiful, joyful, but there was a fear in his voice and a wariness in his eyes which made him look half mad. “I can feel it. A kind of hollowness. I… I don’t miss you so much. I don’t think about Vic; I’m not excited about the baby. I just… I think I’m losing myself.”
It was a hurried, rushed confession, and he glanced over his shoulder, nervous, to check if anyone was around. He lingered, frowning, on the bower under the tree, and they simply stared back, waiting patiently for him to move on.
Eventually, he turned away and as he stood up to leave, he hovered there, words on the tip of his tongue, his hands rubbing against his sides in his anxiety.
“I think I’m falling out of love,” he said at last. “Not just with you – with everything, everyone.”
The world held its breath as he left, the flowers in the bower shrinking back and away, shrivelling and drooping. As he passed by the three sisters, the moonlight caught him, glinting for a moment off something white and hard underneath his skin.
The youngest nearly screamed.
“What have you done?” she asked her sisters, horrified, frozen in place at the sight of it.
“I did nothing,” the middle sister stated coolly, tying a piece of spider-silk around two threads to wind them around each other. “He brought it upon himself. Destiny is not to be trifled with, not to be tampered with. It is not his prerogative.”
Her gaze was piercing and devoid of empathy, full of the certainty of her words. It is impossible to argue with fact.
“He was going to be happy,” the youngest murmured, trying to forget the glimpse of the ivory creeping under his skin, slowly replacing his bones – the punishment of the gods and the Fates on mortals who dared overreach themselves.
“He was never going to be happy,” the middle sister corrected her. “He was never meant to be happy.”
It was the last time he ever came. He was hollow, skin pulled tight across ivory bones, and the light in his eyes had died. Everything about him was blank, nondescript: his hair was dark, his skin nearly translucent. Life, it seemed, had given up on him. Now, it was only a matter of time until she abandoned her child completely and handed him over to Hades.
But first, Fate would have her say.
With a stiff, mechanical air, he dropped a bouquet of roses – a deep, dusky crimson – onto the grave, his eyes running across the name inscribed there time after time after time, as though he thought that by reading it over and over again he could remember what it had felt like to love, what it had felt like to mourn, what had it been like to live.
“Good bye,” he said eventually, his jaw creaking as it opened and his mouth worked around the shapes of the letters and the sounds.
Then, abruptly, he left, with every step seeming more and more fragile as he went, and less and less human.
Once he was gone, vanished from sight of the graveyard, the youngest made her way over to the grave, her green skirt trailing behind her in the grass. Bending down, she picked up the roses and breathed in their scent, musky and rich, the smell of wild woods and long-forgotten tragic, desperate love. It was heady and thick and she smiled as she brought them back to her sisters, winding them into the bower which covered them.
They really were beautiful, she thought. A memorial to the young man who had brought them, and the girl in the grave they had been given to.
It was a Thursday, two weeks later, when the family came again, this time to bury a coffin – white and silver – underneath a black marble stone. The sisters watched, veiled with lilies and dark crimson roses in their hair, from their bower, as the inscription was carved.
Then, once it was done, and they had left, leaving ivy wreaths and bouquets of marigolds and irises, the sisters turned back to the wheel and the scissors and the threads, and time, as ever, ticked on.
A/N: For Mallory (UnluckyStar57) - I tried to do a Teddy/Rose, but this came out :P I really hope you like it - thank you so much for everything. House of Cards is finished because of you, and you've helped me so much and generally been so lovely and encouraging :) I'm not quite sure this makes up for everything you've done for me, but hopefully it helps! :) <3 <3
Romeo - the reference in the title is to Romeo from Romeo and Juliet, which is Shakespeare's and not mine.
The three Muses, mentioned throughout this, are not mine either - they are part of Greek Mythology, and thus appear in all sorts of legends and tales, none of which are quite owned by anybody (as far as I'm aware).
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