The Buttercup Fields
Third in a series of folktales. A tale of warning, of warding.
Any carer worth their salt spins the tale of the buttercup fields. It is a popular tale as April makes way for the soft soil of May and summer begins to claw its way out of slumber. It is a tale that Henry had certainly heard before. More times than he could reliably count. Since Henry had grown from a wee lad, he had held these stories with little regard. They were simply old wives’ tales meant to keep children and fools from exploring and enjoying themselves. For Henry, they did little to inspire fear in him, but the length and verbosity of these tales certainly kept him inside for longer than he would have liked. But Henry was a man of twenty years now, no longer a little boy. He was free to explore as he chose without the constraints of his carers and their antiquated tales.
Yet, much akin to the little boy that Henry once was in body, he was as much today ill equipped to be told no. He felt the word burn its sulphur into him, his wolfsbane and silver. As a boy, he would huff and step heavy, little fists clenched until his nails bored their way into his palms. His carer, try as they might to calm him, would eventually fall to an exasperated sigh of “it is as they are and shall always be” and leave him to his trial. A war of attrition would begin, and it was truly a continual guesser’s game whether Henry would tire himself out prior to his carer bending to his wishes.
It was on an early summer afternoon that Henry found himself once again embroiled in the tumultuous wave and wash of a tantrum. He stomped, heavy of foot and hard of breath, from the tavern in which he was wont to spend his days. It was this week’s disgrace to him that a patron of the bar mocked his noble state. Henry was jobless, due of course to an error in judgement of the local landowner. He had certainly tried, in a rational and calm cacophony, to reason with the landowner, but to no avail. He could not be bested by Henry’s reasoning, too foolish was he to comprehend him, and so Henry had (quite judiciously) called a pox unto him as he burst from the landowner’s home to trek his path toward the tavern. As Henry’s coin had dwindled, his beer increasingly watered and ordered, he had grown irate. He was being turned away at each opportunity to which he deigned to present himself. Henry hated being told no. Even more than being told no, he hated being mocked.
Henry paced his way from the tavern, through to the outskirts of the village, and eventually found his way amongst the fields, so cold now to him through no fault of his own. He mounted the stile before him and found himself on a thin dirt path, surrounded on each side by the buttercup fields for which his region was famed. For a brief moment, Henry was overcome with a recollection of his youth (beyond that of fantasies of vengeance), of his carer’s tale.
The buttercup fields grow wide across the hills. Each year wider and fuller yet. Dotted sweet and yellow, pinpricks on a finger, stars in a deep and cloudless sky. The buttercup fields weave with little breezed breaths tales to those with keen ears. Ken ye, little one, the tales that they tell? Each flower has a tale to tell, should you take the time to hear, for each buttercup holds a spirit. A spirit of memory and joy, a spirit taken from our world in its youth. These little spirits offer many tales, but in return for their gifts they seek what they wish more than anything: a youthful body to inhabit, so that they may regain the life that was snatched by them with such quickness. They would work to pull children into the field with their sweet words, with a promise of playfulness, a game to be won. Such a wide field is often inviting, is it not? Tempting indeed to run through and pluck the buttercups, to weave them in your hair or place them in your buttonhole. Hearken, then. Hear the tale of the buttercup fields and know to keep to the paths, strengthen your focus, and if you must walk near their jaunty glow, keep your gaze steady.
The buttercup fields were, Henry noted, indeed full and lush. The rains of spring this year had brought a damp and a chill that had wracked the village and filled the very lungs of many with a terrible croup that snatched away the breath afore it could pass the lips. The rain had also made lush the buttercup fields, feeding their roots, shining their cheery reflection sunward.
Henry brought his boot to the dirt path with a stomp and a twist, letting loose small pebbles and mites of dust. He saw in the field before him a challenge. No child was he, Henry huffed inwardly, and no child’s fear held him. He had listened too long to the words of others, to their petty opinions of him, their wrongful accusations. He was a good and grown man, he was esteemed, to be respected, and to be told yes, yes, of course. Henry reared his head and spat onto the dirt path. It caught in the breeze and his spittle landed with an unimpressive splatter into the flowers. He watched it drip to the dirt below and smirked at his grand dominion over the nature before him. Henry was no child, he was no lowly and base dullard. He muttered so under his breath, and was met with only the response of the breeze wafting its way through the field. Yes, yes. Henry could easily best any foe crafted by some goodly housewife. Yes, yes. Henry huffed and paced along the path, increasingly indignant at his lowly treatment. The sun beat sweetly down on his forehead, brought the glow of the flowers up to him. Their tiny petals swaying softly in a wave, slowly working its way across the field away from the village. Waving and welcoming him. Welcoming his boot to tread upon them, to crush the petals underfoot and grind their juices into the dirt. Yes, of course.
Henry was no child, and not-children were not held by the bindings of tales. Henry, with a barking laugh, took a step into the field. He aimed his boot and brought it down into a cluster of flowers, bending and snapping their spines under him. Yes, yes, yes. Another stride brought him clear into the field, where Henry could more clearly hear the whisper of the wind through the flowers. He imagined the field telling him a tale. This tale was no warning, but a celebration. A joyous bringing to light of his righteous reckoning, of his quelling of the tongues of the village folk, so far beneath his station. This was a tale about Henry, not some worthless flowers. Henry brought step and step upon them, the flowers brushing against his ankles, his calves, leaving little yellow trails of some pollen, some substance. Further he trekked, his mind filled with fantasy and fable, borne along by the tiny whispers: yes, yes, yes.
Henry paused for a brief moment. An itch on his ankle distracted him for a moment from his revelry, and he leant down to scratch, his fingers, now wrists, now forearms, passing through the canopy of buttercups. He saw the glowing pollen upon his ankle, moving to brush it away. Yet it seemed to stain his skin. Henry scoffed, scratched harder. This only served to break the skin (his nails unkempt and sharp), to fill the underside of his nails with the pollen. He stood, resolute if not a little annoyed. Nothing a splash through the creek cannot rectify. Yes, yes, so wise. Henry considered where he had left off in his tale. Ah yes, the village recognizing him as- No, this damned itch. Henry growled with frustration as he sat down in the field, crushing the greenery around him. He tore the boots from his feet, rolled his trousers up around his knees, and began to investigate the itch that now burned across his legs, his wrists, his arms. To his surprise, the scratches that he had left upon his ankles were ringed with little red bumps, angry and hot to the touch. Something more to mock me for, some small fault, Henry intoned. Yes, yes, be rid of it. The breeze swept past him, but did little to ease the burning on his flesh. Henry recalled the bites of ants, of the stinging beetles and nettles that plagued his youth. He hated the feeling, the remembering of his days spent alone in play. He scratched harder, rubbing his wrist raw and reveling in the brief respite from the burning giving way unto the sharpness of this newly revealed skin. This kept his attention for a cruelly short moment, as the bumps (now more lumps) on his legs called with a scorching need for his attention. Frustrated tears welled up in Henry’s eyes. His breath caught in his chest. How pathetic indeed to be brought so low by something so small. Henry wiped away the tears, angrily swiping across his face. It wasn’t until he saw upon his hands the mix of dirt, tears, and pollen that he felt the burning begin upon his face. He shot up with a scream.
Henry paced, torn between the brief relief of scratching and rubbing the increasing burning on his flesh with the knowledge of its worsening state on his arms and legs. He felt his eyes continue to tear up, to glow with the heat of embarrassment and irritation. He felt them begin to swell shut. In desperation (and unthinking foolishness) he wiped them. In some feeble attempt to rid his sight of the spots of yellow now clouding them, he dragged his nails across them, pulled at his eyelids. He felt the hot swell under his fingers.
He began to run.
Henry had some vague understanding of where the creek lay. His sight was clouded and slitted as his body’s reaction to the intake of pollen swelled his eyes near full shut. He saw only some small, watery facsimile of the field before him, spreading so lush and full, the sunny yellows and vibrant greens now jaundiced and blotched. He ran as some doe, fresh born. Bending over to scratch and tear at the flesh of his ankles, rearing back to pull at his clothes, feeling tight and constricting. A casual eye would see his knees buckle and hear his crying out, a bleating, pitiful sound. Henry’s strangled cry brought forth some wracking cough, a wet and constricted sound. Henry spat again unto the buttercups beneath him in an attempt to remove the pollen phlegm from his lungs, hunched over and heaving fruitlessly. He brought himself down to his knees, feebly calling out to his carer. He scratched with a fervor his forearms, and felt the pustules (raised so quickly) on his arm acquiesce to his attempts and give way (yes, yes). Overcome, seeing some progress, some change, the fresh sensation of the breeze upon this new flesh, he tore hungrily at his arms and legs both. Skin now clustered and crowded with blood and pollen, with lump and cut.
Should a passerby have seen him, (though none could be found as the buttercup fields are rightly left in summers, those in the town wise enough to see the truths in children’s tales) they might have noticed a strange sight indeed. If their eye were to follow the path of crushed flowers, winding and unfocused, they would have spied a man, or seemingly so in body, though not in cry. Upon his body a multitude of wounds, self-inflicted as a newborn babe, small trinkets, and a sea of yellow. If they were to look closer (though no fool would traipse through the field), through each cut, each pore, on face, on arm, on leg, sprouts a delicate buttercup, shining its face up to the sun and reflecting its splendor. The body itself a field, full to the brimming with delicate flowers. They may, if they were to listen, hear the gleeful whispering of the breeze through the buttercups, the soft hiss of a child’s laughter. The fields are full, warm with sun and mirth.