The goblins are hiding in the large head of the stone man on the hill top. The fish people are storming the waterside village. The owl faced babies have started chewing trees again. They are wasteful little angels, always using an entire tree to form a single spear, and they leave a bloody mess when they play war. The egg people are cracking, hatching the dragon dogs who are born ferocious. The old lady harbours her fruit in a satchel. She’s seen all this before. The goblins plot for too long in the stone head. They’re almost always speared by the owl faces. If they make it out the fish people eat them in two snaps.
When she was younger the old lady thought that the fish people had two pairs of legs, the one where their tails once were and a second set that grew from their mouths. Her own mother shot down this notion, grabbing her hand and marching to the parade grounds, which is what they called the place of constant war. She pointed out, directing the then much younger old lady's attention and said, “look there, don’t you recognize those shoes?” And this younger version of this old woman saw her father’s shoes, her father’s pants, leading all the way to the rope he knotted to hold his trousers up, his torso disappeared inside the wide open fish mouth covering the upper portion of his body. Where were the owl faces on that day? And why weren’t the dragon dogs setting the straw huts on fire and scaring the fishes back to the sea.
The dragon dogs are dummies, it turns out. The old woman came to understand this as she came to understand most things, at a very young age, this thing about youth and making a thing burn. These little yelpers cracked from their eggs and lit the world on fire. Before there was a tutelage they were ransacked by the goblins, chained to long sticks and forced in whatever direction their new masters demanded. The sticks were ridged against the necks of the dragon dogs, this was the world as they knew it - this is how the goblins possessed fire. This was their only way to cook the owl faced cherubim.
The owl faced babies have the advantage of flight, the old woman reminisced, smiling, picturing their terrible skills, while scrubbing the muck from a moat pillage. Flight and teeth like piranhas. She used to love watching them, drunk off holy water, clumsily fluttering their way into town. First, they’d send a scout, one lad who nary wore the mask, who left his soft baby face open to the elements. He’d whistle a soothing tune and deliver the message of peace: to begin he’d make a few beds for the townspeople, whistling all the while, producing the scent of freshly washed linens and lavender, next he’d twirl around, giggle if you poked his round little tummy, make himself at home among the townsfolk, always fluttering clumsily, his small wings carrying his fat baby body. Lastly, after a month or so, he would blow his tiny horn or strum his golden harp and in would swarm the flock, dressed in masks and war paint, baby warriors, little devil angels.
The mushrooms around the moat grow fiercest in the spring. The old lady was taught this, before her hair spun silver, before her hair grew rich and acorn brown, back when her hair was golden and sunkissed, when her small hand wrapped round her mother's finger. This was her secret, this is how she survived the forever massacres. Town after town would crumble in flames and fish people and owl faced cherubim. The goblins and their dragons. The owl faces and their spears. The fish people eating the townspeople, laying egg people who hatched even more dragon-dogs.
Now, the old lady plants her crop in the moat. She cooks the harvest in a boiling cauldron, reduces it to a pulp, cooks the pulp down to an oil. In the evening of the first spring moon she visits the village wells, drips the oil into the drinking water. She goes to the river, drains the compost - what is left of the stems and seeds and pulp - into its bed. She ends the ritual wading far out into the ocean where she rinses the pot. The war always wages, ebbs and flows with the tides. She waits out the violence in the moat, where the fishes lay no eggs, and the goblins fear to tread. She makes her camp under the bridge, where the owl faces cannot see her, their torturer, their mother, the thing that quietly gives them purpose.