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"A Road To Faery" by Lady Sigrun (Dark Tower)

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Babbling Loonie
Stratics Veteran
Stratics Legend
A Road to Faery: By Lady Sigrun

"Why're ye seekin' the little people, m'lady? Sure ye knows they're long gone, gone an' dead? Bah, they're jest stories the wisdom woman tells yer ter get yer ter do some'at fer her." The boy, dark, thin, small for a thirteen-year-old, panted as the two slogged their way to the summit of another hill. It rained. "Ah, me," he said. "'Tis yer own gold I'll take home to me mum." Smiling broadly, he continued up the slope.

The hills were choked with eldritch forest, the trees twisted and malformed as if stricken by some nameless disease by the nourishment they drew from the surrounding peat bogs. Only from the summits could one gather the tatters of one's wits and apprehend the scope of the countryside. The barrows (for that is what these were) stretched as far as the eye could see, their crowns barren of all but the greenest grass, shorn, seemingly, by sheep or goats. There was no other evidence of habitation; in fact, no sheep or goats were evident, either. Perhaps they had taken shelter from the rain and were not about their usual haunts.

As they reached the summit, the boy halted, pointing. His female companion gazed in the indicated direction, saying nothing. Upon the green summit of the next hill stood a ring of broken, crumbling stones. "There, m'lady. 'Tis." The woman, her expression concealed by the deep hood of her cloak, gestured to the place, slowly, with her staff. Wiping his dripping nose on his sleeve as he bent, the boy retrieved his shovel, shouldered it, and began to descend. "Ye be not afear't, m'lady? 'Tis said they'll take yer life in three beats with just one o' their little copper darts." The woman said nothing, but repeated the gesture with her staff. Laughing at his own attempt at humor in this humorless place, on this humorless day, he plunged into the treeline.

Near the end of their final sodden ascent, just as a tracery of brighter green could be seen through the gnarled limbs of the trees, the woman halted the boy with a vice-like grip upon his shoulder. He gave a great start, saying: "Here now, yer should'na be skeerin' a feller like thet." Turning, he eyed his companion. He had given up trying to determine who she was, or even to see her face, so well did she guard her visage with her cloak. She stood there, dripping rainwater as if she were but another of the twisted trees they had wandered among all this long day. She stood in front of a great standing stone he had not seen as he spied the green hovering at the barrow's summit. The stone was blackened, as if covered by soot from centuries of peat fires. Near its top, almost completely obliterated by rain and time, were the shadowy remnants of some runic missive from the before-time. Taken together, the stone reeked of violence, evil, and dread. The boy knew sudden fear.

The boy's companion pointed to the base of the stone with her staff and nodded. Clearing away leaf mold, mud, tree roots, and occasional fragments of what appeared to be ancient, rotting bone, the boy exposed bare earth and began to dig. Soon enough, perhaps too soon, his shovel struck stone with a great clang. The woman forced the boy aside with her staff, and, with her own hands, frantically cleared mud and clay from the surface of a large stone slab. She paused, examining the surface she had uncovered, and sighed, evidently satisfied with the result of her labor. She climbed up from the pit; as she did so, the boy had the opportunity to view what she had uncovered. Instantly, he fell to his knees and made the ward against the evil eye with his left hand. "Grammercy, m'lady! Gods above, what have ye done?" He began to weep, rocking back and forth and trying unsuccessfully to pry his eyes from that which the pit concealed: upon the surface of the stone slab were carven figures. Several of these were obviously representative of human forms, but the central image was that of a titanic serpent, coiled in a great spiral. The head of the serpent was remarkably lifelike, displaying gigantic fangs and hideously evil, unmistakably intelligent eyes.

Taken with sudden resolve, the boy leaped to his feet and had already turned to flee, abandoning this mad woman to her inevitable, ghastly fate, when he sensed, rather than heard, his companion uttering the syllables of some ancient language... and was suddenly entirely incapable of movement. Trapped in the prison of his own body, hearing, seeing, and feeling that which transpired about him, the boy knew the truth behind the word "terror." As he watched, the woman withdrew a large, wickedly curved copper blade from the depths of her robe. With a whispered incantation and several bizarre, scarcely human gestures, she called down a great actinic bolt of energy from the lowering clouds, which sundered the stone slab as if it were made of thinnest mica. The boy stood, completely immobile, unable even to speak, as the sounds of the drenching rainfall returned to his momentarily deafened ears. He stood, ashamed of the steam rising from the earth between his feet and the sudden acrid stench of urine.

Carefully, patiently, with her copper blade, she inscribed a large pentacle, with the standing stone, the pit, and the boy at its center. She seemed to mutter as she worked, her voice oddly lyrical and pleasing to the ear, although he could discern no single word among the sounds she uttered. She seemed to spend a longer time about the points of the shape, and then drew a large circle about the whole, walking backwards, hunched over as if she were a ploughman inspecting his labor.

And there, before him, his death revealed herself, disrobing methodically as she removed several strange implements from her leather knapsack. Nude, she stood, examining the standing stone and that which lay below. The boy gasped as he realized that she was little more than a child, no more than a few years older than he. She again climbed into the pit, now revealed: a dark gash in the earth, containing a square stone casket, roughly hewn. Her pale, pale blond hair hung in sodden braids as she reached out and with seemingly inhuman strength lifted the lid of the stone box and cast it out of the pit. And there, in the casket, curled the mummified shape of a small man, some kind of blue coloring still adhering to his wizened, skeletal features and body. Almost, one could have imagined, it looked as if he slept. Almost.

In the mummy's hands was clutched a small copper flute, and about his neck hung a leather thong, from which hung the gleamingly white teeth of some ancient beast. Both of these she took, and climbed again from the pit. The boy remained frozen, choking with his need to flee, to scream, to do anything but stand there, powerless as a lamb awaiting slaughter. Taking some peat nuggets from her knapsack, the girl lit a small fire, on which she flung some aromatic herbs, whispering to herself the while. She appeared entirely unconcerned about the cold rain washing over her body, and seemed to be drifting slowly into some kind of trance. She reached for a small stone container among the things she had brought forth from her bag, and opening it, she began to apply its contents to her skin: it was what the old ones of his village called woad, a blue pigment used by ancient warriors before they entered battle. She did not stop until she was entirely covered with the pungent blue paint, whereupon she took up a peculiar seated posture, her legs crossed in front of her and folded together, her back ramrod straight. She unbound her long blond hair and let it hang loosely in front of her face, took up the small copper flute, and began to pipe.

The melody haunted him, seeming to speak directly to something buried deep, deep within his soul. The boy wept, and the beauty of the tune seized him, and suddenly, he was a mighty stag, leaping with his mates over the heather in the Great Rite. And yet, and yet, he saw through other eyes as well; he saw his mistress, Death, as she sat upon the far side of a small fire from him, playing her ancient tune upon her small copper flute. And as he watched his mistress, she who had claimed him for her own, the boy-stag, he saw the Others.

Forward They came, into the firelight, for it was now full dark, and the rain had stopped, and all was dripping quiet. They stopped when They saw the circle the girl had made, and pointed to her, and to the boy, and the pit below the stone. None of Them stood more than four and a half feet tall, and They wore strange designs in woad upon Their naked, brown bodies. Their long dark hair was matted together and They carried long, hollow tubes upon their shoulders. They seemed content enough to settle in, and listen, and watch. They sat, and the boy-stag dreamed a dream of Power.

Some time passed. How long, the boy-stag did not know, for it was not his to know such things, but wait, and wait he did, and watch. He watched, then, as the girl finished her playing. With her strange, copper blade, she made a slice upon each of her wrists, and dripped the black blood there into a flat, copper vessel. Rising slowly, she fed the fire with peat, and the embers swiftly rose to flame again as she bound her wrists with black bandages. Taking up the copper krater, she flung its contents upon the dark, glistening surface of the stone. The little fire burned suddenly very brightly, and the boy-stag did not see when the girl took up her knife again, and sliced a path through the circle she had made.

Two of Them came, then, into the circle, and gestured to the girl. She sat again while one of Them took up the Teeth, and hung them gently, lovingly, about her neck. There was a great sigh of approval from the gathered multitude that still sat outside of the circle, and she stood again, and turned to the boy, still standing there. She nodded to her diminutive companions, and gestured to the boy. They quickly undressed him then, casting his sodden clothes outside of the circle, and bathed him, and painted strange designs in woad upon his face and body.

The girl then took up the final object from among those she had taken from her pack. It was a long garrote, a narrow leather band with a bone at each end to serve as a handle. The boy-stag knew what was to come, and wept, without shame. Slowly, she crossed around the edge of the pit to him, the implement dangling carelessly from her hand. She carressed his face, tenderly, and he looked upon her gratefully. And then he saw her eyes, and knew despair. She wrapped the leather strap about his neck, then, gently, and began to pull, one hand around each handle. Slowly she pulled. And then released again. He heard weeping, then, and knew that it came from Those, who sat outside the circle, but he did not understand. She pulled again, and released. And again. And slowly, very, very slowly, the boy-stag died, and dreamed his dream of Power.

He did not see it, when the Two placed him in the stone casket and lowered the lid upon him, his hands around a small, copper flute. He did not see it, when They carefully replaced the pieces of the stone slab over his casket. He did not see it, when They buried the fresh-killed stag over the top of his grave, or presented the stag's heart and a small golden box to the pale-haired girl. He did not see Them, as they faded back into the forest. He did not see these things, for he was just a boy, just a young and very foolish village boy, and now he was dead.


As the sun shone brightly, limning the tree boughs with its golden, summer light, a pale girl, her hair so blond it was almost white, rode the kingsroad to a place near Skara Brae, and smiled. She was in no hurry, and let her mount nibble the soft green grasses at the roadside. She looked down at the small golden box she held in her hand, and thought about what it contained, and said quietly: "I must summon the Sphinx."
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