The remains of death must be drowned in the Lake. We had all known this longer than we could remember. But the Lady had died and the Lord didn’t want to give up the Husk. That was the beginning of the trouble. The thing was that he was a young Lord, younger than a Lord should ever be. His father had been an opium addict, and one night, his senses thoroughly clouded, he fell from the Manor balcony and broke his neck. The Lady, in despair, followed shortly after him, and that had been that, long before any of us had expected it. Their son was barely a man, and scarcely prepared to take up his father’s mantle. When he took a wife, though, we all began to relax. Perhaps, we thought, the burden of responsibility would not be too great if he had someone to share it with. But just a few months after the wedding, the Lady started coughing up blood on a ride in the Forest, and collapsed. She expired that night, without ever regaining consciousness.
We were all very sympathetic to the Lord, to have lost so much so quickly, and to have found himself so alone with so much responsibility. Our tributes that Saturday far exceeded what was required of us, some even including in their baskets small jars of rare herbs, those which we found sometimes in the Forest, and usually kept for ourselves. On that day, however, the Husk was not outside the Manor gate, as it should have been. We sent a delegate inside to inquire. On their return we learned it was as we’d feared. The Lord hadn’t moved the Husk from the Lady’s deathbed, and would allow no one else to do so, either. He explained this, we were told, very quietly, in clipped sentences, never looking up from where the Husk lay.
No one was sure what to do. None of us could remember this ever happening before. Had it been one of us who had failed to bring out a Husk, we would have stormed their house without hesitation and retrieved it by force. But the Lord was not one of us. Ultimately, there was nothing we could do except wait. After that day, our eyes were always being pulled towards the Manor, away from our daily tasks, never quite sure what we would see. The Lake, too, seemed ever-present in our vision now, inserting itself insistently, unexpectedly, into our field of view. Its shimmer was somehow always on the horizon. In retrospect, we should have known our watchfulness would serve little purpose. Whatever happened in the Manor was not for us to see. A few of us caught glimpses of shapes or flashes of light in the windows, the nature of which we could never agree on, but this was all. Outside, one cloudless day followed another. It became so dry that the grass turned brown and our grazing animals grew thin and bony. Then, finally, the sky grew dark, then darker, then fell upon the earth. It started to rain. Our fields became basins of mud. We’ve ever been able to agree how long the rain lasted. Perhaps a day, perhaps a century. We stayed inside and listened to the pounding on the roof. We lit candles and burnt small offerings on our secret altars. We wove straw effigies. Our crops were strangled, and many of our animals became stuck and were swallowed by the mud, but we were simply thankful our houses did not collapse.
There is one point in this ordeal whose reality we cannot agree on, although we all remember it. Perhaps it was a mass hallucination. It was night. We were outside, all of us. The rain was so heavy we thought we might drown. There was a rumbling coming from the Forest, and lights between the trees. The rumbling was so low we felt it more than heard it. A mass of darkness, thicker than the night, rose from the Forest and floated over our heads. We didn’t watch to see where it was going, but we knew. We don’t remember returning to our homes.
Later, after the rain stopped, the Lord was gone. Where the Manor had stood there were just a few rough blocks of stone scattered about an empty field. We believe that without the Lord it had nothing to support it anymore, and so it simply washed away. We didn’t speculate on what had happened to the Lord. It didn’t concern us. We found the Husk lying in the grass. It was black and shriveled, and weighed almost nothing. As we carried it to the Lake, some of us worried it might float on the surface for the rest of our lives, but it sunk like all the rest. We stood and watched, then turned away. We know that there is little we can do on this earth that is of any importance, but this, we think, must have been.