Alessia Grows

Submitted into Contest #90 in response to: Write about a community that worships Mother Nature.... view prompt

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Coming of Age Fantasy Teens & Young Adult

Alessia Alighieri had not looked forward to learning piantakinesis. It was customary for all students at her school to learn the mastery of plant magic from followers at the temple of Cernunnos, the Horned God.

Followers of Cernunnos were considered odd by the wider magi community. They wore their uniform as it had been for millennia, since they were misnamed druids back on Origin, first planet of humanity. They wore the antlered helms, with a torc hanging from each. Some painted their skin with woad. Always bare chested, and almost always men. They bore ogham tattoos, their language of magic.

Their language seemed more notches than words to Alessia. She had learned it as she studied the ancient languages of magic. She never wanted to read it on the body of the idiots who went bare chested in the middle of winter as if they wanted to freeze.

Alessia’s mother wore her gold necklace over a bright pink shirt and had painted nails to match. Her bright brown eyes contrasted the dark brown of her hair in a pixie cut which she made more feminine with matching pink lipstick.

“Have you taken your medication?” her mother asked, referring to the tiny yellow pills she had to take every morning to avoid seizures.

“Yes Adelina,” Alessia said scathingly, waving her hand over the blank spot on the table where the pills had been.

“That’s Madre to you child,” said her mother in a hard tone, “eat up before your boyfriend comes.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” Her mother smirked, the one-sided dimple showing. “He’s not!” Adelina laughed and walked away.

Alessia stuffed down her breakfast at a gallop. Papà stared down at her from the portrait on the wall. He wore his blue uniform with the gold chair to bind his cloak. Though he had a stern face there were hints of a smile in the print. She raised her hot chocolate to his picture as she did every day and wished him well at work, policing the magical community.

She finished her hot chocolate. Familiar knocking echoed through the house from the front door. Smiling to herself, Alessia pushed her black hair back behind her ears and ran to the door. Teo waited for her on the doorstep. He wore his coppola cap back on his head to show his face and the fluff he thought was a beard. He was a flirt who had taken to her since her seizure, bringing her flowers while she lay in hospital.

Teo was excited to meet the Cernunnos worshipers. Alessia suspected her friend wanted to see the women of the order wandering around with their flesh on show to the world. He was a teenage boy after all.

He talked about the ogham language which he had not studied as diligently as she. He hoped they would get to wear an antlered helm while they learned piantakinesis. She doubted it.

They walked through the oak forest to the woad glade. Followers of Cernunnos picked the plant to dye their skin and use it in their rituals. Isatis tinctoria plants with yellow flowers swayed in a gentle breeze, grown to waist height of adults. Blackbirds chattered together in the high branches of the oaks watching Alessia, Teo and the other students walking on the planks over a muddy track to the temple of Cernunnos.

Students wore the uniform of their school, the black shirts which laced beneath the neckline and flared at the sleeves. Over those they wore simple black doublets with blue collars. Some wore a coppola cap like Teo, most didn’t.

Down into a dell they walked, seeing only the thatched roof of the temple over the carpet of yellow flowers. Not built, but woven from the branches of four oak trees, the temple was all wooden. The roof was topped with a statue of the Horned God which had been grown, not carved. Two golden torcs hung from the antlers of the muscled man with a thick beard who sat cross legged.

“Welcome children,” said a deep voice. The children jumped. Seeing the man who’d spoken calmed no one’s nerves. He wore an antlered helm, had the ogham tattoos on his bare arms and chest. His beard matched the god atop the temple. His skin had been dyed blue, probably to show off to the students. His plain cloth trousers were stained blue. He looked like he’d walked through from a henge of the ancient past on Origin.

“Are you all here? I was not told how many to expect,” his voice was deep but kind. From the way he looked at them, Alessia guessed he was a father.

“We’re all here,” said Teo.

“Follow me,” said the man in antlers. He led them to the temple doors. He pushed on a creaking door that did not want to open and ushered them into darkness. They were warned to be quiet.

The damp air smelled of tree bark. The floor was stained with droppings. Someone gasped, looking up at the rafters where bats shifted in their hundreds. The follower of Cernunnos told them to hush and to follow him down endless stairs. Down they went into the earth, into the stone. What little light there was came from bioluminescent algae on the walls of the cave they descended into.

The smell of the droppings became stronger. Overhead they heard the bats shuffling. A great shaft of light shone on a statue of Cernunnos dressed in living flowers.

Antlered followers sat cross legged around the limestone figure. Before each burned a blood wick candle, used to summon immortal spirits from the ethereal realm. By each candle sat a knife to draw blood from the summoner. With their backs to the students and the antlered helms on their heads, they looked like centaurs. Alessia half expected them to turn their antlered heads and to see faces of stags staring at her.

A blue glow drew the attention of the students to seeds in the open palms of the worshipers. Blue magic was the magic of water and life. Seeds grew to tiny plants in the open hands. Seeing the magic, the students gasped.

The glow faded. Men and women stirred from their trance and stood. Teenagers sniggered to see the bare chests. Painful orange sparks danced from one offender another as punishment for the disrespectful teens.

As one the men and women called out, “Cernunnos, Horned Lord of Nature, gift us with your teaching.”

Alessia looked around, wondering what was going to happen. She’d never seen a summoning before. The immortal soul was nowhere to be seen. Teo nudged her.

“The statue,” said her friend who was a boy but not her boyfriend. She looked. Her classmates gasped.

The statue of Cernunnos was moving, looking around the room.

“Alessia. Wonderful to meet you,” said the Horned God.

“You know my name?”

“I do.” The statue nodded, the torcs hanging from his head swung. Alessia tried to think of something to ask the immortal being who had possessed a statue to talk to her. Seeing a beetle crawl across the head of Cernunnos didn’t help her mental process.

“What do you wish to learn from me?”

Alessia shrugged. “What can you teach me?”

Cernunnos smiled as if she had told him her favourite colour was cheese, “I can teach you many things. Presumably you are more interested in magic?” She nodded, struck dumb by the circumstances.

“The books I read never specified where your influence begins and ends. You are called Father of the Forest. You speak with the animals and know the plants by their names. Magi call you to bless their crops and gardens. None of that really explains your power.”

“All you seek is power?” asked the old god, smiling.

“No, but I love magic. It makes me feel alive.”

“That I can teach you. Not that it needs said, but nature is powerful. A tree can break a mountain given time.”

“Can you teach me to do that?” Alessia asked, feeling her heart beating faster at the thought.

“My pleasure. If you have the time, I have the knowledge.”

Cernunnos vanished. The statue stilled. She wasn’t sure if the statue had moved or if the god had used illusion magic. From the confused look on their faces the other students must have had a similar experience.

“Is that it?” Alessia asked, “we’ve only been here for a few minutes.” Teo shook his head.

“What are you talking about? It’s been hours.” Teo pointed to the statue. The beam of light that had illuminated Cernunnos was gone. Candlelight gave the cave an orange glow.

Alessia felt lost. She was reminded of the feeling of waking up in her room after going home from the hospital following her first seizure. “Hours?”

“Six hours.” He nodded enthusiastically. “What did you talk about? I asked about the nature of the universe and the beginning of time. He was very evasive. Frustrating.”

“He said something similar about me,” Alessia admitted.

“Did we all have different conversations? Where did the time go?”

Teo walked Alessia home in the dark. Somewhere along the way he took her hand and in the dark she hoped he couldn’t see her blushing. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye and saw him doing the same.

Teo wondered aloud how they would be tested on the magic taught to them by Cernunnos. He told Alessia that he would summon the Horned God again before he went to sleep. He wanted to talk to the Father of the Forest.

Alessia needed sleep. As they reached her house, she parted hands with Teo. He looked at her double storeyed home. It looked as much like an Italian home as was possible, like all the houses on the street it was painted vividly. Her home was bright blue, no longer the orange it had been before her father joined the Militia el Magi. To the left the neighbour’s house was a deep red, to the right a bright green. Further down the street some of the houses had agreed to paint their houses to make the green, white, and red of Italy. Alessia’s home had a balcony outside each upper window and a roof garden over the kitchen. Grape vines snaked their way up trellis on the outer wall, but the old plant was not bearing fruit.

Teo said he had to run home for dinner. He blew her a kiss which meant more to her than he realised. Alessia listened to Teo’s footsteps as he disappeared into the darkness. He lived a mile away. Walking her home had taken him well out of his way.

Trying her electricity magic Alessia summoned a butterfly which looked more like a torn leaf in the darkness. She was too tired for magic.

Adelina was waiting at the kitchen table when Alessia pushed her way through the bug net door into the house. The blue wooden door was only closed in winter.

“Long day?” asked her mother knowingly? Too tired for words, Alessia nodded. She sat down heavily in one of the worn wooden chairs around the table that was a cross section of a mighty tree. Over the rings that told the story of the fallen tree’s age were cup rings and pot burns from hard use.

Adelina waved fiery hands above and below a pot on a tripod. Alessia knew her mother only did it to show off. They had an oven. The hungry girl gobbled down the hot chicken and mushroom ravioli in tomato sauce, without letting it touch the sides. She glugged down cool water from a glass.

In the morning Adelina informed her daughter that she had fallen asleep at the table and that she had to be careful not to ware herself out while she got used to the epilepsy medication. Alessia waved the advice away as she always did. She ran out of the house when Teo knocked on the door.

The two of them met the rest of their class at the Temple of Cernunnos. The beardy man was there again, this time his pale tattooed skin was not dyed with the blue woad.

All they did that day was cut woad and tried to grow it back as it was. Alessia and her best friend believed they were being used to harvest the crops of the antlered worshipers. Some in the class manage to do a little on the first day, regrow one leaf, lengthened a stem. Nothing much happened for the next week.

Cernunnos, Lord of Wild Things oversaw their lessons personally. His skin was the brown of bark, his beard the green of moss. The Horned God was always smiling as if they were about to slip on a banana. He talked to the animals of the forest. Deer would come and watch the students, listening to the ethereal being as if he was truly there, not an illusion of magic. His form seemed solid. When she reached out to touch him, he would open his palm as if to take her hand. Her hand would pass right through and he would laugh. That was the way of the immortal souls she had read. It was their pleasure to mock the mortals who were always children to beings as old as time.

Alessia struggled with piantakinesis and called it vegetable whispering to belittle it to Teo, who was good at it. After two weeks he could regrow woad from the stem nine times out of ten. By that point she could regrow a few leaves half of the time. Teo and Cernunnos would not leave it alone.

“Why am I bad at this?” Alessia asked the immortal soul. Cernunnos seemed to enjoy looking like a six-year old’s drawing titled Antler Man. She had read that immortal souls were formless. They chose how they looked to mortals. Why he had chosen that form for thousands of years she would never understand.

“Because you throw a tantrum and start insulting everyone whenever you fail,” Cernunnos told her solemnly.

“I’m normally good at magic, better than this anyway,” she huffed.

“What magic are you good at?” He was towering over her with his arms crossed, both hands tucked into his armpits.

“Real magic, fire magic, electricity magic.” Cernunnos laughed a booming laugh that seemed to stir the blackbirds in the oak trees to cawing and fluttering their wings.

“There’s the problem Alessia. You have no respect for my lessons, no respect for the magic I teach. You will never learn what you do not wish to know.”

“Who wants to regrow woad? It’s boring,” she shouted. Cernunnos laughed again, but he wasn’t the only one to hear her. Her entire class stared.

Red faced; she ran from the field. Teo followed, calling her name. Up the hill, into the tangled oaks she ran. The blackbirds called after her disapprovingly. She kicked a mighty tree then swore her regret into her sleeve as her toe throbbed.

When Teo caught up to her he told her she was right, it was boring. They should practice growing the mighty oak trees instead of doing the work of the Followers of Cernunnos. When a blackbird crapped on his favourite cap, she laughed to see luck turning against him.

While the rest of the class persisted in the field of woad, the duo spent their last two weeks of the assignment climbing oak trees and practicing the magic in the highest branches.

One day, in the canopy of the oaks Teo grew a branch around her wrist to show off his control. When they realised that he could not un-grow that branch, he ran to find a saw while the Horned God laughed at her stuck there.

On the day of their test the only requirement was to grow a plant from a seed to something sizeable which was suitably vague. Both Alessia and Teo had decided to put their own spin on the idea. They watched others grow woad plants to neck height from seeds and clapped. When Teo was called he planted an acorn in the ground and ignored the protests of the followers of Cernunnos as he grew it over his head.

The teacher informed Teo that despite passing the test he would have to uproot the tree, without using magic. Scowling, Teo watched Alessia popping grapes into her mouth as other students grew woad as was expected of them.

Spitting a grape into the ground at the base of the new oak tree, Alessia waved her hand until the vine had gown around and halfway up Teo’s oak. Jealous mutters ran through the class. Alessia was told to help Teo uproot his oak and her grape vine.

“Well done child,” said the ancient voice of Cernunnos. Alessia knew he was using yellow psychological magic from the tinge of his aura. He filled the sky above her. “You passed your test. I hope that will not be the last I hear of you. I always have time for those who wish to learn.”

“Then you will know me well Cernunnos. I will learn everything you can teach me. I will master all the magic I can. I’ll run the Militia el Magi one day.”

Cernunnos nodded. The gold torcs around his antlers shook as he bowed his head in a mirthful smile. Did he believe her? She didn’t know. He had been kind and patient. His brown eyes met hers with a respectful gaze. Without a hint of mockery, he said he would answer if ever she called. Father of the Forest was an apt name for the kind being who seemed proud of her. She bowed to him. He nodded again, then vanished.

Teo was eating a grape from the new vine, smiling. They had digging to do. Why not eat first?

April 20, 2021 09:05

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14 comments

Annalisa D.
03:36 Jan 30, 2022

I really liked the world building in this. All the magic is really cool.

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Graham Kinross
06:53 Jan 30, 2022

Thanks. More magic in that than the stuff I’ve been writing recently.

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John Hanna
00:24 Dec 20, 2021

You used the language of the Celtics. They came before the Druids? It was a nice continuing story and well researched.

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Graham Kinross
00:44 Dec 20, 2021

I’m not sure about the Celtic and Druidic history, not much of their culture survived. I don’t think the celts wrote as much down as other cultures and Britain was invaded endlessly around that era. Each civilisation seems to have wiped out a lot of what came before. I think the Romans were the first invaders that incorporated things like local religions. Even that makes it hard to know what was there before. The Celtic mythology is interesting but there’s not anywhere near as much information about it as there is about Greek or Roman religi...

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Graham Kinross
03:55 Dec 25, 2021

Merry Christmas John, thank you for being one of the first people to read my stories.

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L M
12:21 Jan 26, 2023

Is this aimed at younger readers than your other stuff? It feels a but like harry potter.

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Graham Kinross
13:25 Jan 26, 2023

That was part of the inspiration, though JK Rowling is hardly the first writer to create a school of magic and children getting lessons on it. The Earthsea books are similar. The new show, Wednesday is actually about that and Netflix seems to have a few shows about similar concepts. The cartoon Ubos was about that as well.

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L M
10:21 Jan 27, 2023

You could have a lot of fun in a magic school. Wosupd be more fun than regular school i think.

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Graham Kinross
12:14 Jan 27, 2023

More fun, more problems. Teenagers with access to magic? Putting regular kids in a confined space together during their hormonal awakening is a mad enough idea to begin with. I can imagine all sorts of love potion and hexing nonsense in every school if they taught magic. Sounds like an Anime.

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L M
00:09 Jan 28, 2023

It does. Will you write more of these?

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Graham Kinross
12:40 Apr 15, 2022

If you want to read more of this then you can use the link below. Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/cyy4yw/

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Aoi Yamato
04:42 Mar 12, 2024

cool story.

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Graham Kinross
22:03 Mar 12, 2024

Thanks

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Aoi Yamato
09:45 Mar 15, 2024

You're welcome

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