Mother sighed heavily in concern as she pulled the crocheted shawl about her lithe form. While it was a sunny, spring day there was still a bit of nip in the air left over from the frigid New England winter.She never had much tolerance for the cold air that seemed to leak into their kitchen from the antique glass windows of the Victorian. The walls were painted a cheery yellow, accented by pleasant shades of mahogany and the structure of the room was also east facing to give the impression that the room was indeed the heart of the home. In the middle of the hardwood floor stood the ancient kitchen table, passed down from generation to generation. Taking a thoughtful sip of her herbal-infused tea, Mother reflected on the baffling memories of earlier.The sequence of events had been a stark contrast to the warm, inviting atmosphere that their well-loved domicile usually inspired. Mother and Father sat at their modest, round kitchen table and held each other’s hands for comfort and exchanging worried glances back and forth. Settling back in his thinly padded wooden seat, Father cleared his throat and looked towards the door furrowing his brow while trying to determine would could have just transpired. He ran a hand through his early greying mop of hair and cast another gaze towards the stairs to his left.
Their little girl had been shut away in her attic room for quite some time and her parents were beginning to worry if Trixie would ever show her infectious smile again or provide some reason to her emotional outburst. Sometime after the omnipresent bell had resonated a toll that alerted the small town that school was over, Trixie had come rampaging from the pale yellow school bus to the door that led into the kitchen. With little more than an anguished puff, the small child trumped up the stairs to her room in her muddy red boots without a word leaving a trail of dirt in her wake. Normally, that would be cause for discipline and conversation but the girl’s body language, bleary reddened eyes and wordless escape to the sanctuary of her room prompted a family meeting to determine what might be happening. Her silent exchange did not even warrant her to give her beloved Grandmother a second glance as she stormed past her in the garden. Father and Mother waited for some explanation to the girl’s strange behavior but it never came from the lonely, hushed room upstairs. They exchanged a few looks at Grandmother, outfit still dirty from the day’s planting, who nodded to them in acknowledgement. “Let her be for a while and I will look in on her a bit later, perhaps.” Everyone nodded, trusting Grandmother’s estimation of the situation and her ability to quell even the darkest moments.
The image of their only surviving daughter bounding up down the stairs of the Victorian mansion was always a welcomed and frequent sight. Trixie’s unkempt tresses of blonde ringlets playfully bouncing rhythmically as she jumped one step at a time brought them all much-needed comfort when it felt that the world had stolen so much from them previously. It was especially significant at this time of year that was supposed to signify a time of rebirth and renewal but rather heralded a sad anniversary forever etched in their minds. Trixie was the light in their world after the death of their eldest daughter Adelaide. Tragically taken at an early age from bone cancer just a few years ago that felt like it had happened yesterday.
It was Trixie who provided a bit of hope for them that they would be able to save their beloved firstborn child with a genetic match for Adelaide’s diseased bone marrow. Conceived to be the one who would be her sister’s savior was a very romantic notion however reality and fate had a different idea. Conceived and delivered a bit later than expected, their dear little Adelaide slipped into passing on Easter. She was surrounded by family, clutching her stuffed rabbit Eustis in her fragile arms and looking peaceful and certain of her fate. Her parents were devastated but forced to carry on because the newly born Trixie was now demanding to be the center of their attention. While it seemed insurmountable to carry on after the death of a child, the needs of another precious life overwhelmed them with a sense of devotion that shaped their second child’s development profoundly.
For some reason, even though Trixie was just a baby and would never really know her older sister in life, Trixie was given Eustis. Trixie’s Grandmother felt it necessary to pass on the stuffed bunny to the infant as a way of maintaining a connection to her deceased sibling. Eustis was a family heirloom, once owned by Grandmother herself when she had been green in the ways of the world. He could be described as a frightful old sight, made of leather with real rabbit fur that was wearing away with age and seemed to be greying as if he were actually alive. His expressive eyes, larger than they should be, were made out of some yellow colored glass beads. Strung about his neck was a chip stone necklace made of natural amber that had been strung by Grandmother when she was just a little lass. The expression on Eustis’ face was one of bemusement that made even the coldest, unemotional curmudgeon smile with delight. One of Eustis’ ears was always bent a little funny as if he was intently listening to whatever conversation was going on around him. Indeed, Eustis was a unique sight in a world full of mass-produced children’s toys.
It was just after dinner that Grandmother made her appearance upstairs at the entrance to Trixie’s room. The door had been firmly slammed shut, presumably when the young child had shut herself away in despair. Knocking gently on the door, Grandmother attempted to elicit a response from the inside. When the third knock went unanswered, Grandmother carefully opened the door and respectfully peered inside. The normally well-lit room was dark and had an atmosphere of iciness about it that made her take a deep breath and let out a cough to clear her dry throat.
“Go away,” said a tiny voice from under the mass of blankets and stuffed animal carelessly strewn about the four-postered bed. Trixie’s room had been affectionately and thoughtfully decorated by her mother. Whereas Adelaide’s room, just down the hallway had been a haphazard heap of toys and clothing, Trixie’s room resembled the royal bedchamber of a princess. Grandmother had noticed the change in Trixie’s Mother and Father’s parenting styles since the death of their firstborn. It could have been described a careless and effortless as partying and chemical addiction made up their previous life before their youngest was born. Alcohol and drugs were often a companion that shared the little girl’s world until Grandmother stepped in to take the infant out of that life and into her custody.
Grandmother was always urging them to slow their lives down and accept both the burden and honor of their journey into parenthood. Often left with the responsibility of caring for the infant Adelaide, Grandmother had wished that her Son and his Wife could have seen what their ignorant neglect was doing to the child. Even though babies are very small, they know more than their parents can imagine. They know when their care-givers are not present in their lives and will often bond to the party who is paying attention to their growth and development. At one point, it felt like Addie’s parents may have even resented Grandmother for her attentiveness when the little girl’s first words were undeniably ‘Gramma.’
The warnings spoken by Grandmother fell on deaf ears when the couple left one evening to attend a concert for the third time that week. It was the same night that little three-year old Addie had collapsed and had been unresponsive. Paramedics rushed to the house to whisk the girl away to the hospital where she would receive her death sentence. After repeated tests and prolonged periods of time for answers to questions that confounded her parents, the worst possible outcome came tumbling into their life like the sound of broken beer bottles smashing into the recycle bin. No amount of alcohol would possibly deafen the feeling of complete helplessness to their daughter’s plight.
When doctors gave Adelaide’s parents a grim prognosis for recovery, the party stopped and life stepped in to dash them away to adulthood. Upon Adelaide’s deathbed, it seemed that Grandmother’s children had a new appreciation for the second blessing in their lives. The baby was sleeping soundly, nestled in her carseat somewhere on the floor of the hospital room, completely oblivious to the grief garlanded around her. Trixie’s parents had vowed then and there to abandon their selfish lives and put their daughter first even in the eve of their firstborn’s demise. Grandmother had been so proud of the couple’s progress not only in their parenting responsibilities but also their marriage. From the greatest amount of grief that can be experienced came the greatest amount of good. That dedication was sprawled allover Trixie’s room, a sort of silent dedication that the past would never repeat it’s self.
“I said go away!” yelled the little girl, this time her voice a bit more menacing. Grandmother sat gently on the edge of her grandchild’s bed and smoothed her hair aside. It exposed the warm, wet cheeks of a weeping soul.
“I will not go away. This is my house child, and even though I can sense your pain, you have no right to cast me out.” Grandmother said in a voice that was both soft yet authoritative. Grandmother noticed that Eustis, the child’s most prized possession was hastily thrown to the other side of the room in a heap of dirty clothes. Wrinkling her nose and standing up slowly, Grandmother retrieved Eustis and put him next to the tearful child.
“I don’t want him any more,” offered Trixie as she looked up from beneath her covers and her wet, tangled hair that threatened to extinguish her soft, blue eyes.
“Aww, Eustis, she doesn’t mean that,” Grandmother spoke to the little bunny in a reassuring tone as if he was actually listening to the rejection of his charge.
“I do! I don’t want him! He’s Addie’s toy, not mine!” Trixie sat up suddenly, even surprising the unshakeable granny with a little jolt.
“Now child, why would you say these things?” Grandmother put her sinewy arm around her granddaughter lovingly and drew her close. Grandmother used her free hand to straighten her aqua-colored shawl and drew a breath as she waited for a response from the babe to her left.
“Connie’s mother told me that mommy had me just to save Adelaide.” The girl sniffed and stifled another fit of sobbing. She was responding to the attention Grandmother had patiently been prescribing to her. “The kids at school told me I’m a failure. They heard what happened from Connie’s mom during the sleepover party and told everyone in my class how worthless I am. They said I couldn’t save my sister. She died because I arrived too late!” The girl burst into another frenzy of tears. Grandmother pulled her close and spoke into her ear, she had even managed to place Eustis safely between her tiny hands for contentment.
“Connie’s mother is a twit, child.” Grandmother’s voice was attempting to conjure a smile from Trixie. “That woman doesn’t know how to mind her own business and keep her mouth shut around children who have no idea how to process that kind of information.” Her voice was becoming a bit sharp and protective. Granny could remember back when her son, in his high school years had dated Connie’s mother. It ended with heartbreak as most young lovers tend to encounter but it did not warrant the kind of slurs that were streaming from this woman’s mouth.
“I was brought into this world to save my sister,” Trixie retorted but with a softened tone of respect to her dear old Grandmother. “I was supposed to give part of my body to save her so she wouldn’t die from the cancer. I couldn’t do that because Mommy and Daddy weren’t able to have me soon enough to make a difference. I am a failure, I did kill my sister by being late.”
Grandmother was never one to believe that the truth should be hidden away or sugarcoated to make a child’s perception of reality anything less than what it should be. “It’s true child, your parents did have you because they wanted to save Adelaide. It’s unimportant how we start out in life, be it sickly, small or shrouded in poverty. What does matter is what we do with our lives.” Her voice deepened as her ancient grey eyes stared into the icy cerulean orbs of her tiny pupil.
“Is that really how things work, Grandmother?” Trixie was curious.
“Well, what if I told you that Eustis here came from humble beginnings? That this bunny, who has been in our family longer than anyone, even myself, can remember is in fact a great hero?”
“But he’s just a dumb, stuffed bunny. Even if he was real, how could a rabbit become a hero?” Trixie looked at her Grandmother with an intense stare that sparkled and captivated.
“Just a dumb, stuffed bunny! Horse feathers! Eustis saved the world from an eternal sleep! Just cuddle close and listen to your Grandmother, she remembers the story that her Granny told her long ago.”
Trixie remained silent and looked at her Grandmother expectantly. Granny nodded her head approvingly at the young girl’s ability to put her differences aside and take advice from the elderly.
“Somewhere on the edge of the galaxy, nestled on a group of stars there was a very old, rickety cabin. Inside the cabin was a little old lady named Granny who was always bustling with movement. She had once lived in the world as a beautiful young maiden who tended to the gardens of the earth. It was her magick that made the grass and crops grow, the birds lay eggs and the thunderstorms that provoked rainbows. Her magick inspired mankind to travel, create and learn all they could. It was she who had been tragically betrayed by lies and ego that made her forget her place in the scheme of things and of the Goddess’ promise of life renewed by effort. Her heart had been broken by a very nasty but handsome man who assured her that if she gave all of her magick and creativity to him, that he would love her eternally and they would live happily ever after.”
Trixie interrupted, “The man hurt her? They did not live happily ever after? But I thought all faerie tales ended like that!”
Grandmother laughed knowingly and hugged her granddaughter, both appreciative of innocence but also speaking forewarning. “No, Trixie, not all encounters in love end happily. One day in the future you may know that pain, but for now, you’ll have to sit contentedly and listen to my story!”
Trixie smiled and nodded, her naivety glowing just behind those blue eyes.
“Her fiancee, this warlock or promise breaker, used his cunning to steal the fertile energies of the maiden and leave her at the altar of their Handfasting. The experience left the maiden old and embittered. Her body transformed from a lovely, comely creature into a shriveled old woman. And she was known from then on as Granny O.” With a gesture, Trixie’s Grandmother pinched her sagging flash on her arm to illustrate the change of appearance for the child. Trixie let out an adorable little laugh that warmed Grandmother’s heart and kept her recounting the tale. “Granny O retreated from the world and to her cabin at the edge of the universe.”
Trixie’s eyes were still fixed on Grandmother’s face as she added, “The edge of the universe?!”
“Oh yes, the very edges of the unexplored frontiers. Now Granny O had never been much of a neat freak when she dwelled in the world of mankind. She was the one who planted and tended the various forests and gardens of the world. That work, as you might imagine, involved dealing with quite a bit of dirt. Her dresses were always stained with the rich, brown essence of the earth. However, the edge of the universe is full of baby stars and the things that make up the stars. As you may know, child, stars are created from dust!”
“No, no, Grandmother, stars are made from plasma.” Trixie correct.
“What are they teaching you children in these schools? Plasma? That doesn’t really make much sense. Have you ever seen how the sand on the beach glistens during the sunset as the old Sun is dying? Have you ever witnessed the way dew sparkles in the remnants of moonlight during twilight with the promise of new adventures? Or the way glitter looks upon man-made decorations for parties? That’s the stuff that stars are made from! Not plasma. That sounds like some kind of dirty water or worse.” Grandmother said in a well-practiced sarcastic tone.
Trixie nodded acceptingly of her Grandmother’s estimation.
“Well one day, Granny O was busy sweeping up all the star dust in her home. Because she was a bit hard of sight, she missed one corner under the bed. In this particular corner, the dust kept accumulating day after day as stars were constantly being replenished to fill up the universe with their bright-white light. After about a week of neglect, the dust in the corner was now very noticeable as Granny O sat at her tiny table and peered across the room, sipping her tea. She stood up and walked across the room casually and noticed that the star dust was now moving as if it were alive! To her surprise, Granny O bent over and decided that instead of sweeping the dust into the ether of the universe, she would fashion something from it.”
Hmm, what will you be? Granny O said aloud to no one in particular. The wonderful thing about being on the edge of the universe is that there was no one there to bother her with their pitiful requests or distract her from her thoughts. Perhaps it was because that day she was reminiscing about her former life as an individual who brought creativity and light to every corner of the globe that she began to mold from the stardust a form of life.
A great big set of ears to do some real listening. People in the otherworld are too busy talking to take notice to the plight of others. I was suffering and miserable and no one reached out because they were too busy requesting daffodils and carrots for their gardens. My rainstorms were my tears but the people that reaped their benefit were too distracted in their own prosperity and abundance to hear my wailing in the coming thunder. They are ignorant of the pain they cause with their selfish pursuits. All of them are always grabbing and taking but they never stop for a moment to comfort. You will be different. You will have a small mouth with a tiny voice that can barely be heard. You will also be timid in your nature so that greed can never overcome you. You will be called rabbit named Eustis.”
Eustis sat still as a rock in the palms of Granny O. His face was expressionless and devoid of life. His ears drooped sadly at his sides and gave him almost a melancholy appearance. Granny sighed and spoke aloud again, “It’s been so long since I’ve made anything. I guess I forgot the last and most important step.” It was at that moment that she breathed a puff of air into his lungs and gave him life. The action took something from Granny O that she couldn’t quite place. It bothered her not knowing why suddenly she felt a desire and emptiness. She had been quite content in her daily habits of keeping to herself and cleaning up stardust. It had been a kind of hibernation for her.
Eustis looked up at Granny O with an appreciate gaze. He cocked his head to the side. One of his long, feathery ears flopped comically to the side as he waited for her to speak.
“Why are you looking at me like that, beast? I gave you life and now you sit here and judge me for being absent from the world below? Make yourself useful and take up this broom. Make sure that you continuously clean all of the stardust that collects here. I don’t want to live in the filth of astral leavings.” Granny stormed away with a vengeful attitude leaving the tiny Eustis to his task.
Now for being the first rabbit in existence, Eustis was a very good soul. He attentively took care of Granny O’s needed any time she asked or did not. He was created for the sole purpose of listening to her whims, musings and her bitterest sorrows. Just because his voice barely rose above the sound made by lighting a candle, didn’t mean that his mind wasn’t fully active or beset with many thoughts. Eustis adored his creator above all things and pleasing her meant listening to her go on endlessly about how she was betrayed by the world below and how no one cared for her. Eustis noted, however, that whenever he seemed to be without direction, Granny would put him to work immediately on some kind of mundane chore. The work kept Eustis busy and also provided him with a function. The chores that she assigned him spilled out endlessly like a waterfall. He wondered in idle moments of rest, if perhaps if Granny had a function outside of complaining that she might feel contented once again as she had before she left the land of the living.
“Eustis!” Granny O bellowed from the pantry area. Eustis came hopping over immediately to see to her needs. “We have run out of onions, carrots and well, just about all of the vegetables in my larder. You’ve been eating them, haven’t you? Now what are we supposed to put in our soup for dinner? You must go to the world below where men and beast dwell. Take this basket and fill it with vegetables. Bring them back to me at once, you little snip!” She cooed and pinched him on the ear gently.
Eustis stared at her silently but with an expression of confusion. “Oh, that right, you know nothing of the ways of the world below. In order to receive something from the earth you must first give an offering. For every vegetable you take, you must place one of these eggs from our chickens in exchange.” Granny O hefted a myriad of brightly-coloured enchanted eggs into the basket. “You will also reach the land below by traveling on this cloud made from moonbeams. It will serve you well,” she sighed and absently brushed a lock of silver hair inside her kerchief.
The little rabbit spent no time to deliberate the task put before him. He lived to serve Granny O and that was his purpose. If he had been irresponsible with consuming the vegetables from the pantry then it was his job to set it right. That’s the lessons he had been taught all of his existence by his creator. It seemed only right that he set out at once to collect vegetables and exchange these oddly shimmering eggs in their stead. So at once, Eustis found himself gliding down to the world of man that he had heard about through Granny’s cautionary stories. The expectation of fertile valleys with glistening rivers snaking between stoic mountains, the tales of trees so heavy with fruit that they threatened to topple themselves over and the delight he experienced from hearing of the way the sun caught the morning dew and reflected tiny pinpricks of rainbow light over the cool grass urged him to travel at perilous speeds on the cloud provided by Granny.
When he arrived to the world below after his long journey from the astral plane above, Eustis was not greeted by these expected treasures of Granny’s ancient recollections. Instead the world was an austere monochromatic mural of despair that rivaled the sad stories he had grown up hearing. The trees were brittle skeletons blowing to and fro in an unforgiving wind. They creaked and whined much like Granny’s old rocking chair that sat by the hospitable warm heart of their tiny home. He jumped from the safe perch of the cloud vehicle and was surprised by the gnawing cold that seemed to bleed into his bones. The ice around him formed a spectre of fascination that was both terrifying and mystifying. Where was this bright world that his Granny O had told him about? Had he come to the wrong place or had it simply been just a dream that Granny had spent so much time weaving in her loneliness?
At once, Eustis surveyed the land before him finding it completely devoid of life. Somewhere in the distance he might have caught the sight of unfurling smoke from the pathetic grovel created by the supposed inhabitants of this land. Eustis sensed he was not alone and drew his attention to a being towering above him, peering from narrowed dark eyes.
“Creature, you are unknown to me,” the ominously cloaked figure spoke deeply. “From where do you hail?”
Eustis had never really been able to speak in the midst of the constant stories that flooded his daily routine that were provided by Granny. His tiny voice was barely able to be heard over the roaring gusts of cold air. “I came from the stars, looking for vegetables. I have something to trade, if that’s alright.” He offered a tiny pink egg to the titanic figure that could have easily snapped his neck and extinguished him with the crunch of a large booted foot.
“Vegetables? Pfft! This is not a land for those. This is my kingdom, a kingdom of darkness and death. Vegetables are no longer a part of this place. Take your basket and leave my sight before I decide to exterminate you as well, wretch!” The mountain of a man let out a frustrated huff and disappeared in a green cloud of smoke.
Eustis simply couldn’t go back to Granny empty-pawed. She had brought him into life and the least he could do was locate some of these vegetables that he had taken from her in his hunger. Perhaps if he explored this world a bit more, he might be able to find something to bring back to their dwelling. He was created to be a determined little fellow and the threat made by this monster did’t sit well with him. Although he was made to be timid, Eustis was also created to be loyal.
So Eustis set out into this strange land that was absent of any color outside of shades of grey. His pale fur could almost get lost in the ice and snow that clung to his fur and spread out before him in futility. Some time later, Eustis came upon a strange couple sitting beside a frozen pond on a large log. He greeted them warmly as they looked over in eagerness.
“Hello, I am Eustis the rabbit. I came from the stars. I was wondering if you had any vegetables to spare?” He again offered a brightly-coloured egg to the dreary man and woman before him. They looked at him with pity in their eyes.
The man in the couple appeared to be a great deal older than the beautiful young lady sitting beside him, “My dear sir, vegetables and the rest of the plants died long ago. Men fight and die over the last few animals that remain in this world. Even their meat can not satisfy all. Let me welcome you to this land of misery, my name is Hades and this is my bride Persephone.” The man extended a skeletal hand covered by sinew to the small creature and thoughtfully shook it lightly.
“What happened here?” Eustis asked.
“The lady who tended the gardens of earth left this world long ago, dear friend. She closed her heart to all and now we reep the consequences of not listening to her mournful story.” Persephone’s eyes were garlanded in puffy dark circles that only added to the lifeless pallor she displayed. “Her forests and creations wilted away from neglect and in her stead, the world is ruled over by a tyrant lord who consumes all that he encounters. My dear husband Hades and I have been evicted from the Underworld due to overcrowding. No one is getting reborn, only the land of death filling up faster than even we can handle. The time that was set aside for me to visit my mother has never come and now I fear the worst. Our connection to this place is quickly dwindling in the wake of nothingness.” Offered the enigmatic Persephone in a lurid tone. Hades and his young wife hung their heads in shame.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” began the tiny, muffled voice of Eustis the rabbit. “I will travel elsewhere and look. My lady is in need of vegetables and I will not fail her.” Hades nodded his head in understanding and offered back the small, pale yellow egg to the creature before him.
“No, you keep it. And take another for your wife, she looks like she is in need of comfort.” Eustis declared as he thoughtfully passed a purple egg into the cadaverous hand of Lord Hades.
Eustis set forth again in a desperate attempt to locate some one who was willing trade with him. It wasn’t long before he came across a funny looking fellow in an ebony coat made of feathers. At his side, there was a slender but hungry in appearance young man draped in ashen furs. Eustis had a terrible feeling in his chest that these two were looking at him as if he were more than just a passing stranger. The yellow-eyed, black-haired fellow let out a frightening sound as Eustis came up to the duo.
“Cawcaw, little one. I am your friend Raven and this is my associate, Coyote. What brings one as bright and,” Raven paused for dramatic effect as Coyote licked his lips, “well-fed to these barren wastelands?”
The sideways glance that the pale-eyed stranger named Coyote was giving the rabbit was making him nervous. Fighting the instinct to run as fast as he could from the odd couple, Eustis raised up his basket just slightly proffering the pair a sight of the delicious and luminous eggs within. “I’ve come to trade for vegetables for my mistress’ soup.” The small bunny felt himself begin to fidget slightly with impatience as he sized up the two outlanders who wordlessly looked at each other in amusement.
“Well we may just be able to help you out, friend.” Coyote purred into his velvety ear. “You see, we are also in need of a rare commodity that you might help us acquire.”
Eustis cocked his head slightly to the right as he listened. “Oh? Uh, all I have to offer are these eggs. I don’t have anything else.”
“Sure you do. Perhaps you could stay for dinner, little one.” Raven chortled while stealing a gaze at Coyote for approval.
Eustis felt his hair stand up on end. Taking a cautious step backwards, Eustis began to put some distance between himself and Raven. Coyote noticed this and pursued the little furry messenger.
“That’s enough!” A sharp, authoritative voice called from the wastelands. A beautiful fiery-haired huntress clad in fine leathers put herself between Coyote and Eustis. “You two better leave now or I will relieve you of you wanton cravings.” She drew her silvery bow and golden-tipped arrow in the direction of Raven’s face. Smiling innocently and raising his hands to show that he posed no threat, Raven pulled Coyote back into the frozen mists. Eustis felt his little heart beating so loudly in his chest that he could barely breath. In that moment, he realized that the duo had pilfered most of the eggs from his bushel.
The maiden smiled down at the rabbit before her who shivered in the gale. Shaking her head slightly, she scooped up the tiny, long-eared fellow and carried him from the ice-bound moors to her modest shelter deep in the woods. Eustis was surprised to find a stag guarding the door of the hovel. “Welcome, little one. I am Artemis and this is my friend the stag. You are most fortunate that I came upon you when I did. Coyote and Raven are known in these parts to be shape-shifters and tricksters. With barely any life left in this earth, they grow bored and actively seek out innocent souls to bewitch. They would have made a quick meal of you had I not intervened.”
“Artemis, my name is Eustis. Thank you for saving my life. It is a pleasure to meet you and your stag companion for you are both a radiant vision in this barren land. I was sent by Granny O to procure some vegetables. Coyote and Raven have taken most of what I had to trade. It seems I have failed my mistress.” His tiny furred head hung in shame before the Huntress. Already her sparkling green eyes were alight with a delicious plan.
“Granny O, you say?” She sucked in a breath of air, whistling between her teeth like a quail’s call in late autumn. A wry smile formed within her ruby lips.“Well Eustis, it seems you are right. Without anything to trade, you will have a hard time acquiring anything of value for your lady. What if I were to tell you that there was something far more valuable you’d be able to give your Granny?” Her voice was soft and inviting and caused the young rabbit to listen intently.
“Anything, anything to make her happy! Her stories of this world were full of life and laughter until she was wronged. Now I see that my Granny remembers a terrene that no longer exists.” Eustis replied ambitiously.
“Such a loyal friend,” Artemis reflected as she pushed a stray lock of her red hair aside. “I hope that Granny knows what devotion you have to her.” She petted the small bristly pelt of the bunny thoughtfully. “If you were to go to the ice-castle that lies to the north where the Tyrant Lord dwells and steal back the golden amulet that he keeps perched on his breast, you would make your Granny very happy indeed. It is the source of magick that was stolen from her many years ago. If you were to retrieve this, Lord Tyrant would not have the ability to imprison the land in death and decay.”
“But the damage to this land is already done and I am just a small rabbit. I have come too late to make any changes.” Eustis looked at her with shame in his expression while twitching his whiskery nose.
“Nonsense! It’s never too late for action. Unfortunately you have seen the worst of Granny. She has holed herself up and let self deprecation gnaw at her mind. You are far more empowered than you have been lead to believe, dear one.” cooed Artemis. She looked over knowingly at her stag companion whose chocolate brown eyes were attentively gazing at his love.
“I will never make it there, I’m too small.” Eustis argued feeling fear building in his breast.
“That might be true, but since you have already paid such a high price, I believe that the universe owes you something.” Artemis began as she walked to a nearby window, opening it as a cool wind poured into the fire-warmed structure.
“It does?” Eustis questioned.
“Coyote! Raven! I can smell you looming about out there. No tricks! If it’s a meal you want you will earn one in my impatience. Come here at once before you taste the sharpened edge of my arrow in your quicksilver tongues!” roared the Amazon beauty.
“Yes! Yes! CAWCAW! We are here, Artemis. But only our curiosity has brought us near. We owe you nothing, maiden.” ordered Raven as he flew through the window in his avian form. He landed on the table and gave a nasty, sideways gander to the stag who snorted in his direction. Coyote was not far behind and in his canine form, padded through the open entrance of the hovel and laid at the feet of Artemis.
“You enjoyed those eggs that you stole from our friend the rabbit here, did you not?” Artemis said sternly giving Raven and Coyote a wicked glance.
“They were delicious!” Coyote yelled back enthusiastically. Raven covered his ebon eyes with his feathered wing in frustration at his companion’s moronic admission of their earlier deceit. He jabbed Coyote in the side while pecking his head with his over-sized beak. Coyote yelped in pain and gave his cohort a befuddled look of dismay.
“You idiot!” crowed Raven.
“Sorry.” Coyote howled as he wolfed down one of the scraps of food he found on the floor of Artemis’ kitchen. The Huntress gave him another look but shrugged it off before she spoke.
“You two will take my friend Eustis here to the Tyrant Lord’s castle at once. When inside, you will guard him from whatever magick tricks that insolent fool has to offer. You will do this because you received something that was not yours to have. You will honor the balance or I will have your hides.” Artemis threatened with a growl.
Coyote and Raven exchanged a look but knew better than to challenge the physical prowess of the Huntress that stood before them. Even the sharpened antlers of her stag companion seemed like they may be a better fate than the one they were presently courting. Having no choice but to cooperate with the laws of the universe, Coyote laid down on the ground allowing Eustis to hop onto his back. Raven nodded at Artemis who pointed the way to the Tyrant Lord’s castle. Without another word, Raven took to the skies, leading Coyote and Eustis on their mission to retrieve Granny O’s precious magick.
It was a matter of a few hours when the band of enchanted animals found themselves in front of the large, steel reinforced doors of the intimidating fortress. Before them, they spied a large lock that kept the gigantic doors shut from threats of the outside. Eustis looked at his troop of newly found associates and hung his shoulders in despair. “There’s no way we could possibly get in there with that lock keeping us out here.” Eustis gritted his bucked teeth at the notion of being defeated and shook his head. “No, maybe there is a way. Coyote, you can shapeshift, can you not?”
“Yes, there is no form that is too challenging for me.” Coyote said with a hint of pride in his tone.
“Then change into a key that will open the lock above us! Raven will lift me up so I can turn the key. Once opened, change back and follow us inside.” Eustis said with renewed enthusiasm.
“Cawcaw! That idea is ridiculous!” Raven retorted.
“You’re right, Raven. Coyote probably can’t manage to transform into something as complex as the right key for the combination.” Eustis offered quietly, “And you, Raven, you’re probably too weak from malnourishment to pick me up in your talons and lift me to those heights. What a foolish idea.”
“I can change into the right blasted key!” Coyote bellowed angrily. He was the sort of beast that never backed down from a challenge. In a flash of his pearly smile, Coyote had transformed himself. A large bronze key lay sparkling on the cobbled entrance at the feet of Raven and Eustis.
“Very swift, rabbit. You’re sure you’re not one of us tricksters?” Raven gave him a knowing smile as he hoisted Eustis and the key that contained Coyote’s spirit to the elevation needed to reach the lock. Eustis smiled to himself as he pushed Coyote’s new form through the whole in the lock and turned. A noise sounded then to alert them that Coyote had managed to guess the right shape to open the doorway. After having pushed the gigantic doors aside, Coyote’s key form dropped to the ground and he resumed his canine appearance. Coyote followed Raven and Eustis in without a second thought to his own safety. The whole concept of him being a hero in a story was alien to him but the notion was romantic.
Upon entering the trio was greeted by the sight of many grave stones lining the endless hallway of the castle. “Don’t move a muscle,” Raven warned, “I’ve seen this before. He has enchanted the dead. Tyrant Lord is a necromancer that has imprisoned the souls of many during his gruesome reign. He will send them after us if we can’t figure a way around them. Just one foot on a grave will summon a legion of loyal souls to his aide.”
A voice spoke, rustling like the leaves during autumn. “Perhaps I can be some assistance to you,” Hades entered the room from the shadows behind them. “They are, after all, my subjects. It is only recently that they have forgotten who their true Lord and Master is,” He said with an air of confidence and royalty. Always present, the Lord of the Underworld could slip unseen from one place to another with little effort. At his side was his beautiful Queen, Persephone. In her hands she brandished the gifts of the two small eggs given to them from their previous encounter. Eustis smiled and blushed politely as the Queen offered him a glance as she walked forward into the room. Her foot upon one of the larger graves.
“Honored dead,” Persephone began, “Raise from your crypts and join us!” She commanded. Hades shook his long, black-maned head and stifled an obnoxious laugh from the way his blonde wife ordered about their legions. Earning himself a look of disdain from Persephone, he stood at her side expressionless but his mind reeling with thoughts. He wouldn’t have necessarily used the term ‘honored dead’ but it seemed to work for his consort. How opposites attract, he mused.
There was a vicious moaning that rose from the mausoleum. It’s terrible noise made Eustis feel like the fortress might come apart from all the shaking as the dead rose from the earth below them. Soldiers, scholars, warriors, men and women comprised the army that stood before Lord and Lady of the Underworld. Death was compassionate in the fact that it didn’t discriminate. Raven landed on Hades’ shoulder at that moment and spoke in his ear.
“Caw! But wait, if you had the power to command the dead, why didn’t you do this before?” Raven spoke inquisitively.
“We weren’t able to get past the lock guarding the door. That was your imagination that brought about a solution.” Persephone looked at her husband. “I have often tried to convince my husband of the value of teamwork but that previous estimation may be challenged now.” She grinned. Hades grunted at his wife and looked ahead.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. Even with an army to do battle with the dark spirits that the Tyrant Lord has commanded with his stolen magick, we still face the next confrontation with he who has murdered the world.” Hades sneered.
As they pressed forward, malevolent spirits met them at every twisting and winding turn within the castle. The dead fought valiantly at the side of their Lord and Lady but their decaying forms could only take so much abuse. Truly the downside of having an infantry comprised of the dead. In time, their great army was withering away into obscurity. Hades and Persephone were exhausted, Raven and Coyote were busily guarding Eustis from harm as he wasn’t very useful in battle with no real magick of his own. The toll of the experience had been evident on the face of the party. The throne room ahead of them, they trudged on not knowing what to expect inside the chamber. It was not long before the party was met with yet another hurdle.
“More locks!” Coyote snarled as he stared at an impossibly small keyhole that guarded the doors to the royal alcove. “There’s no way I could fit through something so small and go back to my original form!” he stammered with impatience.
“Then you need another look because that’s no mere lock. It’s a pressure-sensitive target,” said a deep, feminine voice from behind them. The band turned and saw the elegantly leather-clad Huntress appear. Eustis smiled at once, recognizing the brave Artemis and her stag companion at her flank. The pair proudly strode up to the mismatched assemblage of magickal beings. Her sparkling green eyes inspected the brass contraption. “I’ve only heard of this challenge in legends told by the explorers of this land. But never did I imagine it to be so formidable a test against my skills.” Artemis offered.
“So what, now we have some one who is skilled enough to hit the inside of the pressure lock but where would we find an arrow small enough for the job?” Raven ticked.
Persephone smiled and kneeled beside Eustis. “May I, Eustis?” she said in a hushed, respectful tone. As he nodded back to the Goddess he found himself feeling a tiny prick of pain as Persephone pulled one of his whiskers free of his cheek. She fashioned from it a tiny silver arrow and handed it to an intrigued Artemis.
“Very nice, sister. Perhaps you should have become a Huntress as well instead of Queen of the Underworld,” Artemis jeered while looking at Hades who was shooting arrows of his own through his dark eyes. She stifled a laugh as she walked away and inspected the tiny, slender arrow.
“That came from me?” Eustis said with a smile, ignoring the icy glare that Hades was blasting across the room to Artemis. “I have no magick, though. I was just created to listen.”
“I wouldn’t write yourself off so fast, young one.” Persephone comforted.
“Alright, I’m going to need you all to be quiet as I concentrate on the target,” Artemis began.
“Cawcaw!” Raven couldn’t help himself from interrupting.
“If you can,” Artemis said rigidly to the cheeky bird.
The Goddess clad in oxhide released her bowstring after placing careful aim. The arrow formed from rabbit whisker met it’s mark perfectly and immediately unlatched the portal. Coyote and Raven cheered for Artemis and her stag companion reared up in victory. Eustis hopped up and down in anticipation for what lie ahead. Hades and Persephone kissed briefly but then tensed up as the doors sprawled open. Upon the throne directly ahead sat Tyrant Lord.
A shamble of a man, clothed in crimson robes and crowed in gold upon a dingy mane of greying hair, Tyrant Lord sneered at the adventurers. “So you’ve come this far,” he began in a voice that made Eustis tremble in fear. “Very impressive. But you’ve forgotten how my powers work. I drain life from magick. You can’t stand against me.” He laughed. With a wave of his hand, Eustis witnessed his new-found friends falling to the ground around him and gasping. Their very figures were beginning to crumble under some unseen weight like marble stone under a hammer. The only one unaffected was Eustis, whose body might as well have been made of jelly as he cowered in fear.
“No! No!” Cried Eustis, “How could you be so cruel? What do you gain from this?”
“Pleasure. Power. And the look on your faces is absolutely priceless. Granny O made you, did she? Well she forgot to add some magick. Too bad it doesn’t matter any way. You’ll all be dead as soon as I drain the rest of the life from this pathetic excuse of a rock and take my place as the most powerful being in the universe.” He roared.
“That’s being a bit premature,” an ancient old voice cackled from the shadows. Granny O stepped out and stared at Tyrant Lord. “You see, you’re not entirely understanding of the powers you wield. Once, I loved you beyond all measure that I was willing to give myself fully to you. You stole my innocence, my trust and left me a husk of my former self. I cared for nothing after losing you,” Granny’s voice trailed.
Tyrant Lord stood up, waving his hands he began to use his powers to crush her as he did the rest of those who stood against him. Granny O stared at him defiantly and gnashed her teeth. “And I see time has not been kind to you, Granny. You used to be such a beautiful creature before I stole that purity from you. You will be no different. You will fall.”
Distracted by his own voice during his epic speech, Lord Tyrant never saw Eustis coming. The quick white bunny with the yellow eyes was unaffected by the spell put over the rest of the magickal folk. Granny marveled at her Eustis who valiantly hopped up and stole the golden locket cuffed around his neck. Moving at lightening fast speeds, Eustis bounded away and behind his Granny.
“I think you’re missing something, Tyrant Lord,” Granny began as she scooped up not only the amulet, but also her rabbit companion. As she opened the locket, expectant to see her power contained within she was greeted by an empty vessel. “What? Where is it?” Granny cried. “My powers! You’ve consumed them all!”
Lord Tyrant laughed uproariously at her. “Of course, Granny! Did you think it would be that easy? I consume all. I devour. Did you think me a mere mortal that was able to trick a Goddess? Look closely at my eyes,” His lidded expression suddenly became serpentine. A forked tongue flickered crimson cruelty at Granny.
“Nidhogg!” roared Hades as he recognized the serpent who gnawed at the roots of the Tree of Life.
“Precisely,” hissed the serpent.
“Granny listen to me! Why are you here?” screamed Artemis as her skin began to crack under the wicked ministrations of Nidhogg’s deception.
“Because the rabbit was taking too long with his task! I waited for nearly a day for him to return,” Granny brayed back to the Huntress.
“No, Granny. That’s not it. Long ago you turned your back on this world because you were unable to love or feel due to betrayal. You love Eustis as any mother would love her child. When his life was threatened, it was you who called to me to come and save him. I have heard you, Ostara. I should have listened to you before, sister, but I did not realize my ignorance would cause so much pain. The magick was not in the amulet that Nidhogg contained, it was inside of you. No mere vessel could contain the magick of all creation. Now that you have arrived, you can restore the land to it’s former glory.”
The maiden Ostara stood before a coiling Nidhogg in radiant beauty. No longer was she the frail form of Granny but now the powerful appearance of a proper Goddess. While holding Eustis in her warm arms, she narrowed her eyes and focused her magick. The world shook with the burst of color and life flowing through it. The absence of life dissipated at once. The spell had been removed. Hades, Persephone, Artemis and the rest of the magickal animals stood up ready to battle. Seeing he was greatly outnumbered and his deception broken like fine china, Nidhogg howled in anger and disappeared from sight.
“What a coward! Caw!” roared Raven in disgust of the situation. “He would not even stand and fight us.”
“Well,” Artemis said as she clapped an arm around Persephone and Ostara, exchanging with them a knowing smile, “Evil rarely shows much courage in the face of adversity. It would rather dwell in shadows than deal with the light.”
“Speak for yourself, Artemis. Some of us have cultivated a very nice existence in the darkness,” Hades retorted with a wicked grin. “Ah, my young bride. The winter is finally over and now our time is at an end.”
Persephone nodded and and gave her Dark Ruler a gentle kiss. “It is time for me to dwell in the sun, as is the course of nature, thanks to Ostara. I presume you will also be joining us?” The Queen looked towards the Maiden Ostara.
“I’ve been away too long. Can’t let things go back to the way they were. Thank you, Eustis for helping me realize that I had the power inside of me to come out of my hibernation.”
Eustis offered her a tender smile and cuddled into his Mother, proud and content just to be held and loved. The scene faded back to the little girl’s bedroom.
“The End,” finished Granny as she cast her eyes over the nearly sleeping form of her granddaughter Trixie.
“But Eustis really didn’t do anything, Grandmother.” Trixie said with a sluggish voice.
“Didn’t he? He managed to inspire others to work together towards a common goal. He showed Granny O, through his devotion that there was a reason to get up and go looking for him. People don’t need magickal powers to be saviors, Trixie. You do the same thing for your parents. Yes, your birth was intended to be a way to save your ailing sister and that effort was met with futility. But you have been a light in a dark world for your parents just as Eustis was to Ostara. You renewed them much in the same way. You’re a hero to us all, little girl because every day you just keep going. Don’t let anyone steal that from you. Don’t let the world you influence slip away because you’re hurt.” Granny smoothed the young girl’s hair and rested the stuffed Eustis into her waiting arms.
“Thank you, Grandmother. I do feel better. I won’t let what the other kids said to me make me sad any more. I’ll go on for you, Mommy and Daddy. I’ll make you proud of me.” Trixie whispered. It warmed Grandmother’s heart to hear her granddaughter inspired by her words. It was a rare thing indeed for a child to listen to the advice of an elder.
“You already do. Now, go to bed and dream of what the Goddess has in store for you, child. Let Eustis be your guide.” Trixie’s eyes fluttered and at last, she was asleep. Eustis’ eyes sparkled in the dim. Grandmother leaned forward to kiss her sleeping grandchild on the forehead and whisper to Eustis. “Thank you again, old friend.”