In Servitude [Monstrous May 04: Satyrs & Centaurs]

Content Warning(s):

The satyr’s garden was forbidden to humans, but every now and then the village would grow bold and send one of their own to pilfer the literal fruits of Clavicus’ labor. The satyr knew his orchard produced the juiciest stone fruits, that his gourds grew heavy and fat, and his berries were as sweet as they were tart. He also knew the village had fields in which to grow their own crops and that their harvest yields were none of his business; that was between the villagers and their gods.

Clavicus made no offerings himself, for the god of the forest had abandoned this place long ago. Why else had the garden been destitute upon his arrival? He’d tended it from desolation to abundance with his own two hands without anyone’s help, man or god.

Some time had passed since a villager had climbed the towering border wall of vines surrounding the garden, but Clavicus knew better than to believe they’d finally taken the hint to leave him alone.

But there came a morning, heavy with clouds, where the wind rustled the trees in whispers. His garden had not an intruder, but a guest. Clavicus furrowed his brow as he followed the wind to a remote corner of the garden, where a lone tree grew taller than the rest. It had been the only thing standing when he’d arrived at the garden and assumed ownership, back when it was little more than rotted vines and tired soil. He’d had no need to cut it down, as it kept to itself, and in the autumn it produced round, decadent fruits that he fermented into mead all throughout winter.

Leaning against the tree was what looked like a human but the way the wind swirled around him, welcomed him, made Clavicus nervous.

“That is most certainly an intruder,” he muttered as he passed an apple tree. The tree’s leaves rustled in response—not quite arguing but not in agreement, either.

The man smiled as Clavicus’ hooves traipsed down a dirt path, a smile that Clavicus took as arrogance. “You’re trespassing,” he said sternly, crossing his fur-tufted arms over his bare chest.

“Am I?” the man spoke, but his voice wasn’t quite solid. It was lovely, yes—breathy and soft like a flute, settling itself deep in Clavicus’ marrow.

“Yes,” Clavicus scoffed. “Clearly.”

“You tend this garden alone?” the man asked.

Clavicus huffed through his nostrils. “Do you see anyone else?”

The man laughed. “Not aside from us, no.”

“Well, there’s your answer,” Clavicus said, gesturing at the fence of vines surrounding them, nearly as tall as the ancient tree. “There’s a barrier for a reason.”

“Ah, yes.” The man glanced lazily at the vine wall as if he’d just noticed it. “To keep others out.” His smile held steady as he raised his hand, and the vines of the wall suddenly split to form an opening wide enough for anyone to walk through. Clavicus could see a glimpse of the valley beyond and the surrounding mountains before the vines slithered shut.

His gut churned, for the vines had never listened to anyone but him, least of all a human. But this man, now approaching him with eyes glowing green as spring leaves, was certainly not human.

“You’ve tended my garden well,” he said, his voice no more resonant up close, but heavier—like a sudden summer storm; like fresh snow rolling down the mountains.

Your garden?” Clavicus piped up, tamping down his fear with outrage. He threw his arm out behind him, his tail whipping the small of his back. “This is all my doing.” He beat his chest. “Me. I did this.”

The man just laughed again and it filled Clavicus’ belly with warmth even though he was trying desperately to cling to his anger. “And a fine job you’ve done. You’ve more than proven yourself.”

Clavicus bristled. “Proven myself to whom?”

“Child of the forest,” the stranger murmured, his hand extending to cup Clavicus’ jaw. “Do you not know me?”

His touch was fiery and freezing all at once, and Clavicus’ hooves scraped the dirt as he fell to his knees. The air grew thick and humid, like a storm rising on the horizon. The man—the god—gripped one of Clavicus’ curled horns and turned his face up. Clavicus couldn’t make a sound, could only blink wildly as the god of the forest began to shift.

The wind whipped up, stirring the fruit trees in the orchard, as vines and brambles curled around the man’s shimmering body; jagged antlers spiraled from his scalp, four cloven feet pawing at the lush soil beneath him. Countless eyes popped open along the god’s neck and back and belly, all peering at Clavicus like fireflies in the dark. And when the wind died and the god spoke again, his voice thundered like a pipe organ.

“You will kneel at my feet as you have knelt in the dirt. You will share your harvest, for this bounty is not yours to horde.” The god’s head tilted down, a monstrous smile on his face. “And once more, you will worship me.”

And Clavicus bowed his head, hot tears spilling from his eyes. “My lord,” he whispered as the trees danced around them. “I am yours.”