TITLE: The Greenkeeper 01/12/2017
By Jeremy Kirby
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He looked at the poison ivy creeping out of the forest, encroaching upon Paul’s pasture.
“You’re the greenkeeper, you have to make sure the weeds and thorns are clear of Paul’s <I>precious</I> sheep.” He inwardly mocked the directives of his father.
“Yes, I’ll keep it clear.”
He grabbed his great hoe and began, vehemently, to rake the insidious ivy. He piled it up in a space where the fields stretched between the forests, toward the great mountains. Here the winds blew steady all day, cooling the thick-coated sheep as they fed. He waited until his brother called the herd to the troughs and then lit the pile on fire.
The venomous smoke filled the air, invading the lungs of the shepherd and his flock. They fell to the ground choking and gasping for air, but found no soon relief from the noxious poison.
Upon seeing what his son, Nebnar, had accomplished upon the smallholding, he cursed him with a terrible curse.
His eyes ablaze with fire, whether of the bon set by his son, or from an inner flame, I do not know. His long white beard danced in the hazy breeze as he spoke:
<center><I>For this crime your place will be among the grass and the vines,
The oil with which you filled the winds will fester and pester upon your fleecy skin,
Until repentance find you, the cold coils of nature bind you,
A wretched wraith, yet by blood and faith, to me you will come again.</center></I>
Nebnar fled the horrid scene. The cries and groans of his transformation turned to whelps and howls. He vanished deep within the forest, a miserable creature adorning twisted yellow claws and a fur coat wetted with urushiol.
Many years passed with itching and burning, cold, heat and loneliness. However, none of this turned his heart to feel sorrow for his actions.
One day as he strode upon a mountaintop, he heard a rustle in the bushes. He investigated the unusual noise and found Paul struggling with a ram. The thickets held it captive by its horns.
In the mountain breeze whispered a voice, “Free the ram for your brother.”
Nebnar pondered the words for a moment. “What if he sees me Lord? He’ll be afraid.”
The moment passed without an answer. Walking out into the open, he watched Paul fall away and shimmy backward in fear at the sight of him. Even so, Nebnar raised his hands toward the animal and began to chant over the scrub.
Paul watched in wonder as the branches unwound, freeing his sheep. Just as quickly as the beast appeared, he vanished into the wild.
The beast, Nebnar wandered back to his cave and fell fast asleep. The next morning when he awoke, his itching was gone. He stumbled outside and when he stood to his full height he realized his fur was now a loose cloak that fell away revealing, once more, a long lost man.
It was late in the year and the weather was turning bitterly cold, forcing Nebnar to wear the cloak. He returned to the mountain where he last saw his brother. Night had fallen when he saw Paul once more. He was shivering on a bare rock next to a few smoldering coals.
Again a voice spoke, “Give the cloak to your brother.”
“But Lord, I’ll be naked.”
The stars flickered in silence above him. He stepped toward the shivering shell of a man, placed the heavy cloak over him, and disappeared into the night.
Nebnar staggered to the hot springs. He fell in headlong as the suns first rays pierced the morning. He held his breath for quite a length of time before he surfaced. When he finally raised his head from the warm water, he did so with a smile. He felt more human than he had in seven years. Now he longed for more than a glimpse of Paul. He wanted to talk to him. He missed him dearly; however, he had lost his speech. His words were little more than growls and roars.
He left the hot springs for the shelter of the cave. As he walked, he raised his voice to the sky and snarled to the Heavens, “Father, forgive me!”
Suddenly, the vines of the trees took hold of him, wrapping and coiling around his mighty frame. Thorns pushed into his skin causing blood to stain the soil beneath him a deep crimson. Lastly, they pushed into his scalp giving him a bloody crown of thorns.
The voice spoke once more, “Oh King of the forest, go tell your father that repentance has found you. Old things are passed away...”
Nebnar looked at himself, now fully human, yet a part of the trees like no other. “Will he accept me?”
Every step was excruciating – at first. The more he walked the more comfortable he felt. The vines were like armor protecting him from the onslaught of whatever may come between him and his father.
Nebnar could see the tiny farm, and the stone house in the distance. He grew nearer and nearer until finally, he was home. A thousand questions bombarded his mind. Rather than salvation, this could be his damnation.
He stood in the thick grass and watched the front door swing open. His father was like an old, wise wizard with the knowledge of eternity past underneath him.
“Father, repentance has found me, will you forgive me?”
Tears began to swell in the old man’s eyes. They fell to the ground, and in that instant, the vines came alive. They raised Nebnar’s body, lifting him into the sky. A rainbow of wild roses bloomed with vibrancy. The gothic arbor opened like a prison cell and lowered him to his father. Nebnar stumbled forward into apt arms. His father wrapped him in a new, royal robe.
“Welcome home my son. Behold, all things are new.”
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