“Flower in the Barrow”
Like all good hare, Fiver feared Dark Barrow. Every rabbit knew that to visit the ancient battleground where five herds clashed, leaving death behind along with the graves of thousands, led to bad luck. Most would rather have their tails chopped.
As the young buck walked through the ashes he tried to put the warnings out of his mind. To stop his nose from twitching at the stink sunk into the ground. His tail from bobbing side to side nervously, a warning all good rabbits knew to heed. Tail twitches, better watch your back and hop on outta there.
Somewhere among the headless graves Fiver knew there lived something. Every buck and doe knew.
The Concession. Flower of Hope. Bud of Fire. Last Flame.
The fire lily.
And every buck and doe below their Wise Day knew a single flower, the only Fire Lilly in existence, grew in the Barrow. On the spot where three chiefs set down their weapons, spared what remained of their brave herds, and hopped back to their warrens with what remained of their armies. Every rabbit tried to pluck the flower. Tried to brave the Barrow. Stories from grey haired rabbits spoke of only a paw full of brave rabbits carrying back a bloom from the Chief’s Hill. To be one was an honor all kits desired.
And week before he hopped to his Wise Day, he would see the lily, pluck the lily, grasp in in his paw legend.
On his shoulder his ancestor’s skull seemed to warm with encouragement or warning, Fiver didn’t know which. Either way the feeling was familiarity, knowing that its decedent had crossed into the wasteland of the Barrow. The sky seemed to dim even in the light of midday when crossing the border, casting the area in hazy gloom.
Fiver kept thinking, Just superstitions. Just kits scared by bedtime stories.
The young buck’s long ears pressed down close to his skull, betraying him. The fur around his nose prickled. His nose twitched.
Fiver pawed at his nose to settle himself.
All he smelled was ash and wet dirt. After several generations the Barrow still smelled of ash. The magics the maguses brought down over the now dead plain still held strong, keeping the area in a perpetual state of death. Rabbit corpses till oozed. Blood had yet to dry. The ground remained wet with blood and sweet. Even the blades–some cracked, shattered, others discarded–still had a gleam, not a spec of rust. Empty armor whistled with a empty silence.
Fiver kept expecting one of the corpses to rise up, to catch his foot, tare off a paw.
He touched his ancestor’s skull for courage and luck as he stepped over numerous bodies.
Casting his gaze over the ancient battleground, Fiver saw only a broken land. The Barrow had been a number of rolling hills. Lush with green grass. Now it was a muddy field with patches of yellow crap grass. The earth scorched in explosive patterns. Between his toes mud squished.
Fiver steeled himself and continued on his way through the graveyard, his red coat trimmed in dusty yellow, still and unmoving.
As he advanced through the area the hills gave way to mounds broken up by worn tracks now overgrown. Doors leading into the mounds hung open, crocked and off hinges. Windows were shattered, wooden frames split. He stepped around the shards of glass.
Where he was going Fiver didn’t know. A single flower among the suffocating weeds made the task near impossible.
An idea hit between Fiver’s ears.
He climbed one of the mounds and stood tall.
With a paw across his brow–why? There was no sun to shade his dark brown eyes from–he looked out over the broken land. Shadows of emaciated trees stuck out. Skeletal fingers rising from the graves to drag trespassers down to Hell.
Fiver could just make out…
A pinprick of light.
Bending his knees, Fiver pushed himself up in the air and hopped to the nearest mound in front of him, toward the glow he’d spotted. He landed deftly in a crouch. Instead of rising he pushed off again and leaped across the overgrown trail to the next nest. Then he did this again. And again. Ahead the pinprick of light grew. A light house’s beacon in the night, guiding sailors to–
Something snagged Fiver’s red coat, interrupting his hop.
He fell to the trail below, in an intersection of two crossing trails. Dust spread out from under him in a circle.
Fiver winced. Shook himself. He checked his coat. Ripped. His tail twitched with bruised humor. The skull on his shoulder grinned up at Fiver. Fiver swatted his ancestor’s remains, dusted himself off, and found his feet.
He climbed another nest’s slopping roof. The pinprick was not far now. Fiver bounded between a handful roofs, landing finally on a trail. A few feet up the path, a slop led up to the top of the final roof in his course.
The roof was covered in green grass. Yellow growing lush the further away from the trail.
Fiver hopped on up, feeling the warmth under his feet.
He brought a paw up to his eyes to shield his vision from the intense glow around the rooftop.
Fiver knelt before the glow, at the center, which encased a fire lily. The fire lily.
Paws reached out. Pads jostled the delicate stem.
Fireflies shook from the bud like castaway pedals, peeling away from the golden rays that made up the pud. Each danced around Fiver’s outstretched arms.
Fiver could feel the magic. It filled him. Warmed him.
Against his better judgement Fiver plucked the fire lily from where it grew.
Strangely, though the glow dimmed slightly, the nest’s hill roof didn’t loose its lushness. The grass remained vibrant green. The soil underneath moist, living with potential. The last living spot in Dark Barrow. Place of kit nightmares. Bedtime stories. And a history many in the herd would like to only remember in story, except those brave enough to venture among the graves to puck its one remaining scrap of life.
The fire lily would grow again. Fiver knew so. He felt the magic in the earth.
Fiver grinned and twitched his nose.