The night was cool and clear and the stars shone down like diamonds. It was a nice night to be out, it would be a nice night to be in too but something about it felt strange. It felt wrong going back somewhere where it would be warm. Wasn’t the night for it, she supposed. And anyway she felt half-locked in her own head.
So Sadie wove and wandered down the path away until she found a secluded spot by the water. She didn’t know what she expected, if she expected anything, and began to strip the sticks and leaves out of her hair. Queen of the Woods and the Barrows, indeed, She thought. Queen of the Woods doesn’t get her hair all tangled up in sticks.
The world went strangely quiet, cool and still. There was a chill in the crisp air that hadn’t been there, a weedling, wet sort of cold that went into the bones. The whole world seemed to calm and then, a voice behind her let out a strange and unearthly moan.
Doooon’t looooook, it’s meeee, Tooooomliiiiin, Kniiiight of the Woooooooods, it groaned and Sadie ignored its advice, whipping around so hard she cricked her neck.
“What the bloody fuck?” She shouted. It certainly wasn’t Tomlin, Knight of the Woods. Tomlin, Knight of the Woods wouldn’t have a curly puff of brown hair and a skinny face. He absolutely wouldn’t be wearing a common tunic. He definitely wouldn’t have a smattering of freckles over a pointed nose.
And he certainly wouldn’t look like Crispin Ashten.
Cor, don’t sound so happy to see me, offered the former Mister Ashten. Who had formerly made toys in a little shop and formerly been fucking a girl who sold apples down the road.
“What the fuck?” Sadie questioned again. Her tone was offended but she didn’t feel offended. She wasn’t sure how she felt. Confused, maybe, was the nearest feeling she could muster.
Oh, go on. That was a good joke, the spirit said and flopped down onto the grass. Sadie hadn’t thought of Crispin in so long his face looked foreign and she worried this was the spirit from before for a moment. But no, that had been glimpsed from the corner of her eye and here he was full and here and nearly alive looking.
“That was a terrible joke,” Sadie replied with a huff and turned back to digging detritus out of her hair.
You’re a terrible joke.
“What are you even doing here? You’re dead and I would’ve seen you before if you were here.”
Just came for a visit. Things go weird sometimes, this time of year. Didn’t expect you to be able to see me, he pointed out in an infuriating tone, looking at her from where he lay on his back. Never could before.
“Yeah, well, I can now. What do you want anyway? Did you just… just… come here to spook me or something?”
Nah, just wanted to check in. We’re mates, you know, felt like I ought to check in.
“Mates?” Sadie asked, gaping at him. “We were married.”
Yeah, but we were mates first, Crisp reasoned with infuriating casualness. She threw a stick at him and it passed through with no disturbance to his incorporeal form.
“Oh, piss off, you cheating fucking prick,” she hissed and turned slightly away to very pointedly ignore him. The world went quiet again.
How, uh, how long did you know for? The preternatural voice asked, hesitantly. It was entirely like Crisp only from a farther distance than it ought to be and heard through some watery substance.
“Oh, I dunno. Just from the first bloody year you useless bastard,” Sadie spat in the opposite direction. She wasn’t looking at him, she wasn’t going to look at him.
Would’ve stopped if I’d known, he offered quietly.
I would’ve stopped if I knew you knew.
“That’s absolute shit, Crispin Ashten and you know it.”
You should’ve said something.
“Really? That’s it? Not ‘I’m sorry’? Just… Cor, you’re such a fucking bastard.”
Like you were the greatest wife in the world! Crisp declared with sudden ferocity and Sadie finally turned to scowl at him despite herself. The stupid bastard. The stupid bastard.
“I never slept with anyone else!”
Would’ve been nice if you had! At least we’d have had something to talk about!
“What’s that supposed to mean?!”
The second we got married you cared more about what my Ma thought than what I did! Spent all your time bloody cleaning and being miserable! Never were happy!
“Of course I wasn’t happy you were sleeping with the bloody apple girl!”
You were unhappy before I was sleeping with the apple girl!
“That’s a load of shit, Crispin Ashten!” Sadie spat. She would have shouted but she very much didn’t want anyone to see her screaming at thin air… whispering was bad enough. “And it sure as shit doesn’t give you leave to sleep with a seventeen-year-old for bloody four years!”
It was only three and a half you, you cow! I hardly even liked her! You know how bad I am with people!
“Didn’t look that bad when I saw you!”
I just wanted someone to talk to! Not my fault how it went!
“I would rip your balls off if I didn’t think some rat had already got to them,” Sadie hissed and now found herself glaring at a ghost. Even six months ago this entire situation would have seemed like a bizarre side-note in a storybook much too interesting to ever involve someone like Sadie. By now it nearly constituted normal.
They sat there, glaring, for a long moment before Crispin blinked. He always blinked first and he sat back on the grass with a frown.
I mean, you don’t really reckon a rat got them, do you? He asked, hesitantly.
“Probably just worms to be honest,” Sadie admitted, now also momentarily concerned with the exact manner of the former man’s rotting bits and bobs. Now that all of the angry parts were out the cessation of hostilities was welcome. They’d never really fought, it felt natural and strange.
That’s sort of alright, then. Worms. Sounds more pleasant. More earthy.
“Aye, but it takes longer.”
Yeah… It’s not like I could feel it, though. So that’s alright. Just don’t want the poor bastards to suffer.
Sadie flopped back in the grass with a groan, rubbing the heels of her palms into her eyes. They sat on the edge of the clear pond in silence, even the draughts of autumn wind had stilled and left the world largely untouched.
Did you get in a fight with Ma?
“Huh? Sort of. Not really a fight. Told her I wasn’t going to run around doing her errands and things anymore. Had me cleaning windows on my birthday, you know?”
Crisp’s laugh was pleasant and unearthly. It sounded like him and before she could stop herself she smiled back. Sounds like Ma. You didn’t fall did you? Those roofs are dangerous.
“Nah, didn’t fall. Just… I dunno. I feel like I’m always someone else’s person. Got mad at her for always making me her errand-thing. I’m always someone’s daughter or wife or daughter-in-law or bloody… I dunno. I just want someone to be mine instead. Or… at once, maybe.”
The words hung there in the air, lending it a heaviness betrayed by the light scent of water and leaf-rot. They sat still for a long while in the grass, bats crossed the night sky above them and Crisp passed his hand through a few longer blades of grass.
Do you think I’d have been a good Pa?
“What? I dunno. Maybe. I never really thought about it.”
Of course you did. You think of everything. You’ve always got those clock wheels turning in your head.
“You mean cogs, Crisp?”
Clock wheels, s’what I said.
“Cogs, Crisp. Cogs.”
You’re avoiding the question.
“Sure… Aye, I think you’d have been a good Pa,” She decided after a long moment’s thought. “Real patient, you always were good with kids.”
I was better than you. Remember that time Sissy tried giving you her baby to hold and you almost dropped it?
“Nah, I’d forgot about that, I was thinking of that time Lillie’s boy walked in front of you and you kicked him in the head.”
That wasn’t on purpose!
“Right in the head. Pow! Down he went!”
Lucky he wasn’t slow after that kick, to be fair.
“But other than the kicking I think you’d have been alright.”
Thanks. I think you’d have been a good Ma. Got that thing about you. And you make good scones. Do you still do the ones with frosting?
She snorted. “Aye, still do.”
There, kids’d love those. Mine especially, eat a whole bloody plate of them.
“You’re an idiot, Crisp,” Sadie said fondly.
Takes one to know one.
“I know one when I see one.”
Sadie picked at another piece of twig in her hair.
I, uh, I am sorry.
“Are you sorry you got caught or sorry you did it?”
Bit of both I suppose.
“Suppose it’s something. Alright, apology accepted.”
Are you not going to apologize too?
“Apologize for what?”
For going weird. For… I don’t know.
“For not being myself?”
Aye, that’s it. You were always better with words than me.
“That’s true. You’re a bloody idiot, Crisp.”
So that’s a no on an apology?
“I’ll consider it.”
Good as anything, I suppose. Did you really get a dog?
“Aye, Izzy. He’s a good bloke”
Crispin let out another weird, odd-pitched laugh. Izzy’s a girl’s name.
“No it’s not.”
It definitely is. I take back what I said. You’d’ve probably tried to name a little girl Frederick or something. You’d be a rotten Ma.
“Git,” she stated in reply.
The night passed into dawn and Sadie Lowater, Queen of the Woods, fell asleep in the grass at the edge of a pond, covered in a mantle of green leaves.