The Grove of the Ancient Willows

Gavin Edmund Smith

The grove of the ancient willows was dark, yet strangely luminous with the light of filtered moonbeams. The gentle breezes spoke softly to the hanging wisps of foliage, speaking lightly of far-off climes bathed ever in glowing sunshine, and telling sweetly of long-past days when the world resounded with the throb of living things too numerous and varied to know. No single breeze could hope to feel and brush against them all.

Half-real forms of dryads and satyrs moved restlessly among the constantly swaying arms of the hoary willows, their transient figures becoming the motif for a weird and ever-changing tapestry of eldritch, silver-grey shades. The uncertain moon peered sadly through the surging leaves, shining an iridescence of shimmering splendour.

A running brook bubbled and trickled through the grove. Its banks were skillfully tiled with tiny, green stones set long ago by ancient hands. Fragile, floating leaves fell from the overhanging branches into the swirling waters. Glimmering, serpent-shapes gamboled aimlessly within the cold, rushing currents. Now and again one would leap up suddenly and show its phosphor-lit scales, only to plunge back quickly with a soft plash. The busy waters rushed on through a dense forest into deep night.

In the midst of the forest a fantastic temple rose. With walls slanting inward, arches of curious angles, and summit of many peaks, the lower walls were thickly encrusted with a green lichen, which sent forth little blossoms shaped like bells. The blossoms stirred and fell into the glistening water that flowed past the temple.

There were times when this temple in the grove of ancient willows was tenanted by sagacious priests who sought, through the aid of potent distillations, to record in huge, hide-bound volumes of papyrus the wisdom imparted to them by the spirits they called forth from the trees.

But the priests are gone now, and their temple vacant for longer than the wind can remember. For the accumulation of secrets has an end unsought and unexpected. They returned to the beginning of things, that which is the source and the end. Well is it written in their huge, hide-bound volumes of papyrus: "Before the coming of Zhothaqquah or Yok-Zothoth or Kthulhut from the stars, Ubbo-Sathla dwelt in the steaming fens of the new-made Earth: a mass without head or members, spawning the grey formless efts of the prime and the grisly prototypes of terrene life. . . And all earthly life, it is told, will go back at last through the great circle of time to Ubbo-Sathla."

So the breezes stir the willows, the teeming waters flow, and the temple stands mute under the moon. And the spirits dance and caper in their ghost garden.

Top of Page