The City of Bees: Part I

An Espresso Tale


Accipiter G. Goshawk

Hanging on a wall, somewhere in my study, there is a picture of a white city. It’s tucked away in a green forgotten place, in a world of clear skies and mirror-like rivers.

Until recently, I wasn’t really sure who had built the city or why. But the other day, just as I’d finished my cup of tea, I heard a faint buzzing coming from the picture. So, naturally, I leaned forward and placed my ear on the wooden frame.

And I listened.

The valley had been lost to the world millennia ago. Maybe it had been the scene of an ancient war, or the seat of an evil wizard turned lich.

Now it was alive with unbridled plant life.

A series of endlessly flowing springs sputtered from the top of the sun-drenched mountains and danced into roaring waterfalls that sprung from the cliffs to join the meandering river below.

Meadows of daffodils, dandelions and rapeseed surrounded the forests of pine and larch, leaving a little space for a few glades of centenary oaks and younger beech.

Despite this bounty of space and shelter, the valley had very little wildlife. Many of the larger animals shunned this place entirely, possibly out of mostly-forgotten fear or simple disinterest. In time, a few water fowl had built hesitant nests in the marshland and at night, a lost traveller might hear the surprising screech of an owl on the hunt. Smaller birds made their homes amongst the pines and in the rock faces; but no falcon or eagle ever graced the thermals with its noble wingbeats.

They came from the southern pass, dressed in rags of white and carrying only their precious wicker baskets.

Some had been cast out from their old homes, while others had left before the persecutions started. A few had even managed to escape imprisonment and the terrible sentence that followed. They had all met in the wilds, guided by the same familiar force, drawn to a path that they hoped would deliver them from torment and grant them peace. Like their charges, they had no real leader; only a spokeswoman, moved by the intent of the collective.

They travelled across the valley floor until they came upon a gigantic rock archway, under which the river languidly flowed. It was here that they chose to set down their baskets and begin their life anew.

They began by making small shelters on the sun-kissed slopes of the arch; not for themselves of course. Within these, they placed their baskets and guarded them day and night against the small beasts that might think to steal their precious contents. In time, they built small ponds by the sheds, providing a safe access to water.

Last of all, they set about constructing a home for themselves. It was little more than a shanty town, built of fallen branches and driftwood. But it was all they needed.

For years, they worked tirelessly. Some of the winters proved harsher than most and it was all they could do to survive while still protecting their baskets of treasures.

There is no record of who rekindled the practice of mélissamancy, nor how it spread after having been pushed aside for so long.

It started with the smaller things: encouraging their tireless charges to produce a little more of their golden bounty, or summoning a small swarm to scare away a lost predator.

But as the long-repressed humming returned to their daily lives, so did its complex tones and melodious song. The shanty town was soon filled with an ever-present buzzing, as golden-fuzzed bees – the mélisses – sped through the air, dancing to the hum of a gentle request or wish.

The town grew and expanded, as the people returned to life after years of fear and flight. Soon the hunched, shy mélissamancers began using their skills to tame the animals of the valley. They kept them as carefully as they did the bees, only taking of their wool and fur to spin wonderful threads and yarns. These they made into robes reminiscent of their most sacred traditions: pure white, adorned with bee and honeycomb patterns.

They cultivated the land sparingly, carefully listening to the words of the forest, to not upset the balance by their presence.

The bees also brought change to the valley. Bred from an ancient magical stock, they spread life wherever they roamed, encouraging violent flower blooms and filling the forests with ripe fruit, nuts and berries.

In the decades that followed, life was quiet in the forgotten valley.

Then, a child was born.

It was written that they came out of the womb humming, and for this, their parents named them in the language of the bees.

They grew up among the hives, never once feeling the need for protection or a veil. They loved the mélisses absolutely and would spend all their waking hours either tending to them or reading the few precious books that had survived the exodus.

It was the middle of spring when it happened. The city rose at dawn, but in truth the spell was cast the night before.

In the few instants before their bedtime, the child went to their window and filled with the memories of a particularly lovely day, hummed a song of thanks. They filled it with their own memories, those of their parents and of the people that had come before them. They filled it with gratitude for the days to come. They filled it with honey, wax, propolis and nectar; with candles, cookies, wrappings and flowers. With fruit, tree sap and warmth in the dead of winter. They filled it with fire, knowledge and love.

Their song spread through the small town, echoed by the few who heard it and carried its tune. The hum curled under the rocky arch and up to the hives, where it danced –almost unheard- until dawn.

The swarms came with the first rays of the sun. A cloud unlike any in recorded history rose from the hives, ignoring the placating hums of their guardians.

They spread into the sky and around the valley. Some carried their glue to the outskirts of the town, while others gathered the chips of white rock the river had carried from its place of origin, in the heart of the gigantic glacier far above.

The story continues in Part II

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