For the most part, the valley had been abandoned. A perceptible darkness could be felt by those humans who lived there, a presence much darker and dangerous than any they had ever felt before. So, they fled from it. The valley itself grew hushed, its beauty hiding something jagged and sharp just beneath the tranquil surface. There were a few brave souls who remained; those who were simply too stubborn to leave or who chose to fight the bitter air alongside the energies of the earth. But they were scattered the length of the river, their homes tucked and hidden in the bends and curves of the valley.
Jess Bethel was a young man of nature. He was raised in the woods by an elderly monk and would have been a monk himself if there had been a monastery nearby to take him after the old man died. He wore a simple brown robe which covered a strong body sculpted by years of manual labor. He resided deep in the forest in the remains of the old, stone chapel which had been his aged adopted father’s home.
Honeysuckle Sycamore stumbled upon Jess as the young monk collected water from one of the creeks that streamed from the hills into the river. As he gathered the water into an old bucket, the long limbs of a dogwood tree stretched over him, and its petals sprinkled around him like a blessing. Something of Honeysuckle’s old awe returned to him upon seeing Jess and he could not help but follow the young man back to the chapel. The monk of course knew he was being observed, and would often stop and wait when Honeysuckle, slowed by Grit’s measured progress, would fall behind. And try as he might, Honeysuckle could never get Grit to remain completely silent. (“Hush, Grit! We do not want to scare him away.”)
That first evening Honeysuckle and Grit hid outside the ruins of the old chapel with the crickets and hoot owls. The light from a single candle lit the interior. What Honeysuckle was waiting for, or why he had dragged poor Grit along, he couldn’t say. He was enamored by Jess Bethel. He thought him the most magical being he had seen since his dear Dogwood. The sprite’s eyes were once again wide with delight.
As the dusk light settled on the valley hills, the monk came to the chapel door and placed bread, berries, and fresh tomatoes on the moss-grown, stone walkway. He then turned and walked back into the chapel with nary a look behind.
“Look there, Grit!” Honeysuckle whispered excitedly. “The young human has left food. Do you think it’s for us, Grit?”
Grit said nothing. She only moaned softly and cried her sand tears as she wrapped her arms around him.
“You just sit here, dear Grit,” he said. “I think he does indeed mean it for us. What a kind, kind man!” Honeysuckle then darted out of hiding, quickly collecting the food and bringing it back to his charge faster and more graceful than a leaping stag.
Jess Bethel watched quietly from within the chapel. His eyes twinkled and he smiled with adoration at the Passion’s innocence.
Time passed, leaves changed, and though the memory of Dogwood was ever present, merriment at last returned to Honeysuckle Sycamore. At night, staring beyond the tree limbs at the sky he would whisper, “How has Honeysuckle survived without Dogwood?” He could not answer his own question, but he knew both Jess and Grit had parts to play in its truth. He avoided the river, though. He knew he could never again play along its banks, never enjoy its sway or song. Not until Dogwood returned or until all Passions had died and there was never any use for rivers at all. In his life in the forest, Honeysuckle Sycamore had become a caged Passion.
Grit remained forlorn as was her nature. She was born of the darker tendencies after all. No matter what Honeysuckle did or what gifts Jess brought her, she gave nothing more than a grunt in reply.
“Poor Grit,” Honeysuckle sighed, catching a grain of sand as it fell from her eyes. “Won’t you ever smile?”
As the seasons took turns cradling the valley, a quiet romance flowered beneath the canopy in the old, stone chapel. The silent monk and the Passion became very much captivated with one another. They slept tenderly in each other’s arms, they gathered berries and firewood, they bathed one another in the stream, and they cared for the lost child, Grit. Theirs was a happy, silent, shrouded existence.
When Honeysuckle and Jess Bethel made love for the first time it was as if the purity of the valley had at last returned. The forest around them took on the quality of Truth, a wind of fresh understanding. Even Grit noticed the change as she slept in her bed of leaves on the forest floor. It was enough to quiet her grief-calls and still her incessant rocking, lulling her to her first peaceful rest.
The young monk had never known the world to be as beautiful or as shining as it was the moment a caged Passion came into him. Honeysuckle’s love was like a tree sprouting inside Jess. Branches of joy spread out from the spot the seed was planted and grew through the monk’s veins making everything more vibrant and filled with life, indestructible. From that day on, everything held a much higher quality for Jess Bethel.
As Honeysuckle came into him and they were joined, the sprite’s laughter and glee filled the air. It eased through the forest, wrapping around the trees and traipsing down the hillside, until it finally came to the river where it swam gracefully along the current.
Down river something less beautiful had transpired, however. A trail of smashed pulp and smeared blood littered the banks, remnants of a small massacre. Peat Moss stood on the rocks, ripping apart what was left of a gaggle of geese he had come across. As a Passion he could easily overtake any flying creature. With the geese he had only to open his large arms to catch them all in a deadly embrace. Feathers, blood, and guts stained his face, hands and chest. And when there was nothing left alive or twitching, he grimaced in disappointment. His blood lust could never be satiated. He wanted more - more blood, more maiming, more death. He stomped and grunted in agitation.
Yes, he was quite irritable. That is, until his keen sense of smell perceived the scent of Honeysuckle, and his ears caught the slightest air of gaiety. His eyes lit up with the memory of a familiar (if long thought dead) acquaintance. Across his face crept the very same crippled grin he had worn the night he had been born in that narrow hollow. The scent of Honeysuckle gave him his first twinge of nostalgia. It was spiked with thorns.
Immediately, he dropped the mangled remains of his feast of fowl and tramped off up river, following the sweet scent of an ivy flower. The earth shook in his wake. He had work to do. There was some fun to be had out of a job only half finished.