Lore

Met the Winter, Met the Ways

Of Field, of Wood & Hedgerow
Part I: Met the Winter, Met the Ways

Things come and go, things change. Nothing changes more than anything else, but we cling to our illusions and we get by.

I’ve been wanting to spread about some more universal (Keléstial) lore, if only to prove, once and for all, that no, it’s not just about rolling dice and fetching pizza. It’s at least as much about the stories and I need to get some of them out there (and maybe quickly).

If you think this is not so much a piece of Hârnic Lore, then think again. Perhaps I’ll collect them all up later, maybe not so much, but here’s a start in any case. Please comment (the ‘out there’ part is for you) please offer contributions if you have them; we’ll do the tying up, the clever ordering, and the bundling together, we’ll dress them in bright bows and colourful segues. There is no reason to limit the ‘series’. I’m passing a new law… it’s all about the lore.


Edêr stirred up some Sheôri with his malice. They let out a great mass of clouds filled with rain and jealousy to reclaim their lost demesnes upon the land. The great wind came from the West. The Grey Slayer sent forth his Elkýri; they rode down the long winds and teased the clouds with their lips, their arms, their breasts and thighs, easing and drawing out the painful moisture. It fell almost at once. To high, thin craggy sharpness, deeper than the deep dales. It was the kind of winter that few recall.

The beasts in their lairs, the tribesmen in their deep warrens, huddled about their well-stocked fires, the hunters and the trappers long in on the fringes, some with their eyes wide at the familiar newness of it all.

The scattered elders settled in, amidst their kin as if to wait forever. Their bones telling them what their hearts might scarce believe. They reached about with hands and smiles to reassure, to entreat patience through blood and proximity, to bind hearth and family, to fasten up the loose and drifted and invoke the blood.

There were a few out and about, here and there, not quite beyond the need for it, but pushing at the obligation. One they called the wise woman, she liked that name, although she thought it plain. All women were wise, at least they were by her age. Long before, really, but by then they learned the look of the thing, the art, the feel. Young folk are not for listening to exactly, you got more out of that pot by just looking and remembering. She had gotten quite good at remembering. The listening was to look sympathetic her own self. It was much more about thinking and remembering. Years back, I remember something like this.

They called her the wise woman and that never bothered her, although she doubted it meant what they thought it meant. She did not mind hedge witch either. True enough, she was as likely to say ‘My Hedges need tending’ as ‘goodbye’ when she had finally listened enough and was ready to do some walking.

Grandma was the same kind of thing to her. Every ma is pretty grand you know? She would ask, but the youngsters never seemed quite sure what she meant, and that seemed fine too. More time to think, more time to ‘listen’ and remember. Hedges are good and hedges are useful, she would say, and she kept her two big lads on a long lead for the actual work. The folk agreed. Hedges were good and they were important, as important as the goats and the seed, and the crops.

She had a pair of dogs that kept her close. She was theirs and they understood the deal. The long deal, the wordless bargain that went back before the first contracts or the first professions. The one between dogs and men, and especially wise women, the one that could never end except in betrayal, and could not have started without the most sacred promise. The one that said I will guard you and keep you, and make you good and honest and honourable, and I will live in your shadow; I will do all you ask and bind you to your promises. They were not exactly trained dogs, but they could understand a hint and knew what needed doing. ‘They keep me in line’, the hedge witch said, ‘and hedges is all about lines.’

The snow hardly ever stops the wind blowing. As if the wind gets the last word. There might be some great snow plan with snow crisp and even over the whole world like glass, but the wind says no. Let’s have more here and there, and get it off that tree. Then someone comes along with feet and marks it all up, and some badger forgets his nuts and needs to go out for a refill. The snow gives its all, but it does not have quite enough sticking power, except maybe in the high cirques where it can barely get a few toes settled in for a season. This is why when it snows, all you can hear is sighing, or that’s all you can hear if you listen.

She knew the trails, she knew the lines, and the dogs kept her on them. They didn’t look all that happy about it, but they knew the work.
Out here, there were few hedges, but there were plenty of woods that might have been hedges if they had the mind.

When she stepped between the rows, it was hard to tell. Someone else might have seen a great white serpent on either side, sighing, maybe creaking a little, but the witch heard the snow, she heard paws keeping everything where it should most be, and she heard her own bones. Not that there was a difference, she thought, between the creaking of snow and her bones. Much the same thing, really.
She found a nice spot by a copse. She had made fires here before, not just winter fires. Summer fires too; here was a good spot for a fire. To remind the air about warmth. It took a hard winter or a weird summer to ever make it dry in these parts.

The fire she built now was not about dry. The air remembered. Snow did that, maybe the Elkýri helped. The air was crisp. It could not forget about being dry. The night was not that dark either, but she felt like some yellow and orange amidst the white and palest blue. A good moon, a good reflection, crisp air and a warm hue dancing in a hearth. ‘Hearth Witch’ was another name she didn’t mind. She found her ring of stones, banged a few sticks together and got a fire going. If it looked like magic to the dogs, it was the kind they were used to, and they settled down to watch.
She liked to tell herself stories. That is what she said. Sometimes she let others listen, but they rarely came out the same as they started, the heroes never seemed to accomplish anything heroic and people tended to forget what they were about. Them as heard the stories wondered if they needed some other name than ‘story’; they wondered if someone was a bit ‘off’ about what made a good story, but they only wondered that sort of thing when they could not hear the stories. While they were actually going on, they felt lifted up into a cloud of mumbles and vague memories where there was something firm and brawny underfoot, something that always seemed to feel like home, something that felt like where great grandma must have lived.
This was not a story like one of those. Now she just seemed to be humming to herself, and kicking snow off the earth to let it breathe in some smoke and ashes. Almost like she was talking a little life into it, as you might to rub a maiden’s arm when she fainted, or for that matter, if she took too long, as you might slap her face a bit for good measure. Of the earth, she had the measure. Now the dogs were nodding, but whether this was fatigue after long labours or familiar agreement, none of them wondered.

The man came quiet out of the forest. It could not have been the quiet that kept the dogs still. Certainly, the high one glanced at the hedge witch, but no alarm seemed called for. Hint taken, she put her head in her paws and waited for something more engaging.

The man walked slowly up to the fire. His gait was odd, as if he was trying to avoid leaving anything like footprints. Not that he left the maiden white unmarked, but somehow the odd furrows and holes he shuffled into existence seemed to lack any destiny, and at his passing, they could not very easily be taken as of a newer vintage.

He must have been wearing more than one coat. One must have been red once, his pants and boots, and his amorphous windings still carried the memory at least of ermine, or some poorer cousin. His pulled-down hat had clearly been red, but in a time that seemed too long ago to matter. Over the all his cloak was probably green or russet, but the fire made it warm. He carried a large black sack. It seemed to be full to bursting, but to not weigh much either, as if the man was a collector of feathers or pinecones.

She nodded at the remains of a low wall at a right angle to her own perch and watched him as he sat down. His beard was mostly white like his hair, both were long and dry like the air and harboured the same kinds of shadow. His floppy hat pulled down over one ear; there might have once been some embroidered point to the thing, but now it was more a thinking cap and what it wanted to think about was getting pretty old.

The old man put one foot by the fire and rubbed it back and forth until the snow got out of the way and his boot was on bare ground. Then he stopped to listen to the sighing of the wind and the hissing of the fire. A short line of eyes lingered along the tree line, but no one paid them any mind; there did not seem that much mind to go around, not much to spare. The dogs knew the work and how to read a hint and they were half-lidded at best.

The man smiled at nothing in particular, and then pulled a bag from his voluminous folds and handed it to the hedge witch. She looked inside and found a few small pine cones and a moist gnarled root. A broad smile spread slowly from her eyes, and she handed the man a few acorns. There was no sense of a trade, perhaps just the feel of a link in a long chain.

“A story,” he mused out loud, scratched his beard and smiled “What might be best?”


Part II: The Language of Wolves

One could see from the gold of her eyes that the spirit of Jârlak moved there. Like the fingers of the soul, like petals in the wind, it moved. It set her paws upon the snowfall, upon paths, it stood her whiskers in the air, ran attentive bristles down her spine and tuned her, tuned her to the sighing, to the small sounds, to the unrelenting songs. It let her see the difference between permanence and the other thing, between moonlight and the light of the moon. These were things that those unmoved, unfilled by that matchless shade, could hope to see.

This is never passion, this insubstantial ghost. Wolves save their passions for particular times. They hold it in their heart and hang it from trees and fences. They spray it, acrid in the intoxicating wind, and light it upon the aspect of fleeting prey, but most of all they hold it near like collars and lockets about their necks, like silver chains, in, worn and devastated reliquaries beneath the leaves and cones, under snow, resting a long rest on good earth, amidst humid, bent roots. It abides, as a put up wine, as a seed in the dry earth, as only passion may.

The wolves ruled the woods, and they were not fond of men.
It wasn’t that they bore them any particular malice; the wolves would have liked nothing more than to live in quiet and mutual ignorance with the village; but the men of the village, and worse, the ones who passed among them as strangers, with their wire and their blades and their ropes, seemed always keen on intruding, and mussing up the careful footpad trails through the wood, and on making great scars with their stakes and their traps.

It was the traps that the wolves resented most. When the villagers came among the wolves, they came with long sharpened sticks and great lengths of looping cord, and soft-soled shoes, and their heads covered in tree-coloured hoods, and paced silently through the forest in twos and threes, pausing and looking about and sniffing the air as a wolf might do; as the dogs, who led them, did, making themselves part enough of the woods that the wolves could respect them. They came fewer and with greater care, and with greater fear, and the wolves could respect that, too. They knew to walk in care of Jârlak who watched the woods, and they knew their place, and that when they could catch the loping game that fled them and the wolves with equal accustomed terror, that they need be grateful, and pay their tributes to the wolf-god in little handfuls of dried fruits, and careful, again, for deer and rabbits and foxes could only replenish so quickly, and they were cautious.
The men with the traps were different. The wolves did not know where they came from – though to be fair, the knowledge of the wolves extended only so far as was needed, to the edge of the woods and a little beyond, and they knew, as one, as wolves knew things, that the trap-men came from further away than wolfish wisdom reached.

The wolves only knew that the trap-men cared little for the woods, or for the rules, or for the meaning when they took dozens more rabbits or foxes or deer than they were due.

Frankly the wolves tended to think men a little stupid – the village-men were possessed of the cheerful, mostly harmless sort of foolishness one expects of puppies: all meaning and tromping and young. Men were young, and the wolves understood that. The wolves, like many creatures, were in the habit of considering them a necessary nuisance, because the men did, after all, sometimes let sheep and goats wander too near the edge of the wood, near enough to cross the line that made them wolf business, and a well-grown sheep could feed a dozen wolves for a moon or more, at least until the meat spoiled. Village men never killed the wolves unless they felt threatened, and for the most part the wolves were perfectly content to stay within the cool, comforting half-dim world of the woods. It was there they belonged, after all.
The trap-men were of a different foolishness than the village men: more careless and colourless. They came with sharp corners and heavy boots and flashing eyes, and littered the forest with their cast-offs, clinking metal and jagged-edged stakes. They came and stayed for days at a time, and crossed the forest in long lines, like a great net sweeping through the trees. They came and went away with sacks and carts of game, and cut the skins from things with great knives and cold smiles and hung them from trees as they ate dried meat around their campfires, the smell of fresh kills bleeding into the air, and then sending baffling volleys of hard stones into the underbrush when the wolves came to investigate this very blatant invitation. The trap-men were a mystery, but not one the wolves were keen on solving. Rather they were a problem, one which the wolves were not willing, after several seasons of thin living and abuse from the villagers uncaring of their desperation, that the wolves were no longer willing to tolerate.

The wolves were watching, that year, as the smell of men on the edge of the woods doubled, then tripled, though that wasn’t saying much; there were many more wolves than men and always had been, so that wasn’t saying much. But there were more than was usual, and the wolves went slowly along the borders, waiting for the inevitable. It came at the first half-moon, and this time the trap-men came in greater numbers, walking in a half-dozen pairs and carrying great frames on their backs holding jingling traps. That gave the wolves pause; the men came in nearly equal numbers to their fighters, and they carried many more traps than they had ever brought before.
They were coming for the wolves.

They had killed wolves before, but only in passing, as if as an afterthought. The traps they left in the forest they hid, and sometimes left them when they deserted the forest after they’d hunted their fill, left them to catch the unsuspecting paw in sharp, unmoving teeth and leave one dying for days until finally the blood ran out or starvation finally won out. The traps were the wolves main reason for hating the trap-men, rather than merely pitying them like the villagers; they said about the trap-men that they were uncaring of the rules of the forest, that what they did they did without interest in the results. That they killed not for meat or for warmth, as the villagers sometimes did, but for some other, empty reason that the wolves did not fully understand.

The dogs did not understand it either, which the wolves knew because sometimes, seasons back, the wolves had arranged with their cousins which paths the men could walk safely, which warrens were unclaimed. The dogs did not understand the trap-men either, only told the wolves that the villagers gave them shelter sometimes for the same incomprehensible human reason; something to do with shining bits of metal in which the dogs had little interest except that they seemed to be connected, somehow, with the spare shanks of mutton or plates of stew which were the men’s side of their arrangement with the dogs. The wolves and the dogs understood one another, but they had little in common. The wolves were solitary to their own species; the dogs made partners and children of men, teaching them and gentling them and guarding their homes and their puppies for warmth and food. The attraction baffled the wolves, but did not inconvenience them, and so held little interest.

So when the trap-men came that evening, under the fire-coloured light of sunset, in two long lines, they were watched and followed by soft-padding sentries, tails low and brushing along the ground, noses twitching with curiosity and caution. The wolves watched the trap-men spread out through the forest and make camp, lighting tinder and bringing it to roaring under big logs they dragged out of the bushes and stacked up between their bedrolls. They talked in loud, laughing voices, the tones wolves hated, because they tripped along lines of humour and meaning foreign to wolfish thought. But they could see the lines of their faces, and their hands arranging their stores of metal teeth on lengths of metal chain, and how they ate with speed and purpose, tearing off great hunks of dried meat and chewing quickly, and tied back folds of the skins men wore outside their own skins, with the same motions wolves used when grooming. Killing their smells. Smoothing their coats. They were going hunting.

As the moon rose, the men doused their fires and rose and gathered their many things, and set out through the trees in pairs, one man carrying the collection of traps and the other holding some strange device the wolves did not know – but by the way he carried it, tugging on strings and metal catches, they took it for a weapon and agreed, among themselves, that the man holding the danger should be taken down first, if the need arose.

The wolves knew, from many years of watching men and their strange, sound-filled speech, that men were puzzled by wolfish words. They liked to think themselves knowing, because their kind had deals with dogs, but the speech of dogs had changed, over the uncountable years, to half-mimic the speech of men, in gestures and tones and faces. This had been necessary, their cousins told them, because the language of men was so childish and lacking in nuance, and they had had to train them for so long, and so they had had to find some way to teach them. In this way, the dogs understood men better than the wolves did, but the wolves privately thought that they understood better the things that truly mattered.

In any case, the trap-men brought no dogs with them. The wolves thought this hopeful, because it meant that they could plan wolfishly, and count on the men’s fear of wolfishness.
The wolves had a plan, but one the men would never understand.

As the trap-men went carefully through the woods, crouching here and there to lay their metal teeth along the ground, they were watched, and each man had two four-footed shadows. It seemed not to occur to the trap-men that the absence of the usual night-sounds of creeping and galloping and loping and skittering feet was strange; these trap-men were not hunters, though they thought themselves to be hunting. They did not realise that the strange silence of the wood, the space filled only by leaves and branches moving against one another and the tramping of their own boots over the carpet of needles and the clinking as they set their traps, was something to be feared, as every little creature better aware of wolfish notions and of their intentions, now hiding deep in their dens and caves and hollows, could not help but know.

The wolves watched, with many dozens of deep brown eyes, as the trap-men pushed little pins between the grasping metal teeth, and heaped them over with handfuls of discarded leaves as if the wolves would not see them; they could know that fallen leaves, untouched by any creature but the wind, had a smell that could not be mistaken. They could not know that only running, heedless creatures, intent on some other goal, could fail to notice the mismatched look of the hidden traps.
The trap-men did not understand the wolves, and they never would.

As the traps were left, and the trap-men carried on to lay the next one, questing muzzles came carefully out of the bushes, noses twitching, paws placing carefully before them on the ground. The trap-men could not possibly have comprehended the intensity of the wolfish minds and wolfish stares being set upon the task of brushing leaves carefully aside, and taking in, in every visible detail, the looped end of the metal pin gleaming in the dappled moonlight.

They would certainly never have suspected the silent signals being sent across the forest, throughout the whole of the wolfish assembly; ear-turns and whisker-twitches, head-tilts and shoulder-hunches, and finally, a long, echoing howl that sounded through the long silence like the ring of Death’s own bell.

The trap-men froze, as one, and looked at one another, as the howl was answered, once, twice, and then uncountably, until the whole wood was filled only with the sound of the cries of wolves that the trap-men had wondered after all the evening long. The great, rising noise shivered along their skins, and focused suddenly by some drive that habitually resides at the very back of the mind, the trap-men turned towards the distant lights of the village, and in terror touched by madness, fled for their lives.

Down in the village, at the sound of the howl, doors swung shut and dogs stood to attention, and the village men nodded in what they thought was a knowing way, and the dogs looked at each other in a way that was.

Two mornings later, when a few canny villagers went looking for some sign of the trappers who owed them lodging money, they were puzzled - and less bothered than they might have been – to find a hundred sprung and empty traps scattered through the woods, some slung over the branches of trees, and to the surprise of the dogs, but the delight of the men, the packs and clothes and boots of the trappers scattered along the game-trails, undamaged and untouched. Only the dogs saw the one white wolf, eyes dark gold and wise, padding among the grey ones watching them from the trees as they always did, waiting to see how the men would behave at this strange happening.
Fortunately the villagers, being generally practical and reasonably selfish, looked at one another and shrugged, and collected what valuables they could find, and gathered up the traps and buried them – for the villagers had little use for such contrivances - and took a last glance along the trails, but could find no sign of the trappers. This worried them a little; but the trappers were not very pleasant, or polite, and in any case paid less than they really should have for room and board, and so the villagers carried their substitute payment back towards the village with perplexed expressions and murmured to one another about the strangeness of the woods this morning, but didn’t think on it long after they had sold the trappers’ things to other travellers and pocketed the coin.

From then on, few trappers paused long in the village, and even fewer went on through the woods at the edge of it. The hunters that came in the leadership of dogs hardly paused at all; for the dogs would stop, and sniff the air, and meet the gaze of the wolf standing sentry at the edge of the trees, and after a moment, would bow its head in doggish assent, and then turn and nudge his man insistently on, along the road.

It was a good and comfortable arrangement, and it served them. Dogs and wolves were cousins, after all, of the same blood, but they had their own kingdoms. Dogs had long been and would always be the wiser rulers of men.

The wolves ruled the woods.


Arien Crossby
N. Robin Crossby
Miscellaneous Content: 

Beginnings....

I've heard that folks might like to know a bit about how Hârn got started, and it's certainly true that people do ask me now and then, "How did you think all this stuff up?". When I say "now and then", I mean about every other day for twenty-five years, so I expect this qualifies as a Frequently Asked Question. The easy answer is "I have no clue", but I have noticed over the years that many people seem to exhibit a reaction to this response that might tend to indicate a defecit of satisfaction. Some actually hit me. Despite the fact that the answer is true, the various reactions have (after 20 years) conditioned my answer to the question depending on my proximity to the questioner (within arm's reach, for example). So permit me if you will, to offer a few ecclectic, unorganised and unrelated meanderings in lieu of any *actual* answers.

In the beginning everything was dark, then I got born and started designing worlds. This is not as much of an exaggeration as you might suppose. Other kids made pictures. I made maps. I also made pictures. I made maps and pictures... Well, maps and pictures and more maps. By the time I was ten I had surely mapped half a dozen worlds.

I started developing HârnMaster around 1975 and the first version of Hârn by 1980. At this point, of course, I had no thought of publishing anything. This thought took another year to impose itself.

All in all, the idea for Hârn took about ten years to spring full-grown into what has to serve as my mind, but once it got there it seemed to stick, like gum on your shoe, tar in your hair or a defecit in your bank account. It strikes me that there must be at least a few folk who might like to see some my early Hârn maps.

N. Robin Crossby

Miscellaneous Content: 

Demon in the House

Demon in the House
A Parable of Domestic Disharmony

One day, the woman came unto her husband, who was working in the fields saying,

"My lord, there is a demon dwelling within our house." The husband ran into the house, and gazed about, but he saw no demon.

After a time he said to his wife,

"Good lady, I have examined our house, and I must admit that I have not found that of which you spoke, although I looked in every corner, under each bed, in all the closets, and behind each chair." To this his wife replied,

"Alas, he is invisible." At this the husband became puzzled,

"How then, dost thou know there is a demon within?"

"I perceive him with my very being, and I can smell him." Again, the husband was bemused,

"I perceive him not, although mayhap thy sense of smell is superior to myne own. Art thou sure?"

"I am sure. A demon dwells within, and thou must drive him forth."

"How am I to drive forth a demon that I can not see, nor hear, nor feel, nor perceive with my very being, nor taste, nor even smell?"

"I will show thee how to drive him forth."

Thus did the two enter the dwelling and did the lady demonstrate how her husband might drive forth the demon by means of a complex ritual that involved the drawing of pentacles, the waving of arms, many divers incantations and no small amount of jumping up and down. Thus did the husband learn how to drive forth the demon, and he did this, and the lady smiled upon him and they were happy.
The task accomplished, the husband went back to his work in the fields and the driving forth of the demon slipped from his memory.

One month later, the man was again working in the fields when the wife came unto him saying,

"The demon hath returned, and must once more be driven forth." The husband, who was particularly involved in his work, said,

"Art thou sure, for I am exceeding busy?" The wife grew angry and sullen, saying,

"Dost thou take me for a fool? The demon has returned and must be driven forth." At this the man entered into the house, and said unto his wife,

"Still, I cannot see the demon." The wife said,

"He is here, and more yet more unpleasant, and must be driven forth." Again the husband looked about,

"Alas, I cannot remember the ritual that you required of me upon this day last month."

"I will tell it thee again"

Thus the wife told unto her husband the manner of driving forth the demon and, he undertook the ritual and drove forth the demon and went back to the fields to resume his work.
Upon the same day in the following month, the wife came unto the man and said,

"He hath returned, the demon., and must be driven forth." To which the husband replied,

"I am exceeding busy and would not wish to put aside this work."

"But you must come at once"

"Canst thou not drive forth this demon thyself?

"That I cannot do, for I must continue with my own work."

The husband sighed and went into the house and performed again the ritual ha had been shown.
Upon the same day of the following month, the wife came again and said,

"Alas, again the demon hath come and must be driven forth."

Now the husband was even more busy than he had been the previous times, and answered saying,

"I cannot come now, for I must finish this work" To which his lady replied,

"Thou must come now, my husband, for the demon is here now."

"Let us drive forth the demon upon the morrow, for I am exceeding busy." To which the woman replied,

"It is vital that we not delay."

"But," replied the husband, "I cannot see, nor hear, nor smell, nor taste, nor feel, nor yet sense with my very being, this demon. What harm can he do us if we let him be a day longer afore we drive him forth?" To which the lady grew angry, saying,

"I tell thee that the demon smells with a terrible stench and makes me sicken unto my very being."

"How can this be when I sense him not at all?" he asked.

"If thou carest for me, thou would drive forth the demon because I asked it of thee, and only because I asked it." To which the husband had no answer. Thus he went into the dwelling and drove forth the demon in the manner she had taught him. And they were content.

One month later, to the very day, the woman came again to her husband and said,

"Again he hath returned. I had hoped that thou wouldst have foreseen the need to drive forth the demon, and undertaken the ritual without my asking it of thee."

"How can I do such a thing when I cannot see, nor hear, nor feel, nor taste, nor smell, nor sense with my very being, that whichof thou speakest?"

"If thou carest for me, thou wouldst not require of me that I remind thee each time of thy duty." At which the man went into the house and performed the ritual she had taught unto him.

Upon the same day in the next month, the woman came again and said,

"Again hath he come, and thou must drive him forth." But this time, the man was so busy that he could not leave his work and said,

"Sorry I am, but this time if thou requirest this task undertaken now, thou must do it thyself, for I simply cannot leave this work." At which the lady grew angry, and the two argued, but the man could not abandon his work. And the wife went into the dwelling and performed the ritual herself. Later that day, she complained unto her husband that he cared not for her. And their relations were cool for several days. She would not grant him her favours, nor even speak kindly unto him, saying that performing the ritual without his aid had made her so tired that she had not the energy to undertake these things.

A month later, upon the same day of the month, she came again unto him saying,

"Again the demon hath returned. Wilt thou once more prove thy distain for thy wife and oblige her to undertake the ritual of purification without thy aid?"

"I cannot see, nor hear, nor smell, nor taste, nor feel, nor in any way detect this demon. How am I to drive it forth, how am I to believe that it even exists?"

"If thou honourest thy wife, thou wouldst take her word in this matter, and perform thy duty."
Thus he went into the house, saw no demon and wondered.

Month upon month, again she came unto him asking that he drive forth the demon. Often she would say,
"If thou carest for thy wife, thou would not wait upon her word to perform thy duty."

But he never laid eyes, nor any other sense upon the demon. Yet even so, eventually he came to realise that a demon did indeed dwell, each month, within his house.

N. Robin Crossby

Miscellaneous Content: 

Mist over the Fens - a Mixer's Night Story

Mist over the Fens -
A Mixer's Night Story

The mist over the Vémion Fens was cold and, and the night was drawing in. Young Llúwyn pulled his cloak tighter and hurried onward along the boggy path. He had only a few more minutes before the light failed altogether, and he wished to reach the Fenlander settlement before he was reduced to stumbling in the dark. He had already traveled several miles from Bévon manor, and he still had the return journey to manage.

Just as the grey light was turning to foggy blackness, he spotted the fires of the encampment. A hushed stillness lay over the huts, their leather doorways drawn tight to keep out the cloying damp and cold. As Llúwyn moved quietly passed the outer habitations, chinks of light winked out at him, and the low hum of conversation drifted through the night.

At last he reached his destination, a large dwelling near the centre of the encampment. He hesitated briefly at the door, and reached for the edge of the care-worn doorway. "Good even, Master Llúwyn", came a voice from within. "You are late… as usual!". The voice had a mirthful quality, and was answered by gentle round of chuckling. Llúwyn blushed, and hesitated yet again, before collecting himself, and pushing his way through the doorway.

He was instantly bathed in light and warmth from the central fire. The contrast dazzled him somewhat, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Around the fire sat three older persons. One, an older woman, rose and clasped Llúwyn’s forearm. "Come now, Llu, you know we’re only teasing thee", she said, with a voice that defied her age and looks. "Come in and warm yourself. Yálow – get the boy a drink". She shepherded the young man to a seat by the fire, and one of the men passed him a wooden tankard of warmed and spiced ale.

"We expected you before sundown, young Master", said the third member of the group, a greying man of indeterminate years. "Especially tonight", he added, his tone taking a sombre turn. Almétha looked quickly at the older man, and for a moment her face was clouded. "Hush now, Léthwyn. You’ll be giving the boy the frights. He’ll be well enough if he hurries back before moonrise".

Llúwyn downed his ale, and glanced around the dwelling. "I will be fine, Mistress. Do you have the package?", he asked.

Almétha nodded. She looked once more at the young man, his bright blue eyes contrasting with his dark hair and tan skin. He is growing up, she thought to herself. And she forced herself to smile. "There was a time when you were happy to sit and listen to us spin our tales, young Master. But you are nearly grown now, are you not? Soon you will be off, living with some great clan, learning to be a squire. You’ll have no time for folk such as us." There was a smile on her lips, but in her heart she felt a chilling sadness.

Llúwyn looked up. He looked around at the group, and nodded. "I know. I’m sorry if I seem short. Today was not a good day, and as you said, I should have been here hours ago." He glanced at Léthwyn. "And you are right. Tonight of all nights is not one I would wish to wander the Fens after dark."

A shadow passed over Almétha’s face, and it seemed as if the mirth that had filled the room as he entered was gone. "Then here is your package young Master." She handed him a buddle, and a rich aroma of many flavours swelled up. "This should cover all of the past month’s arrears".

"Now – take a lantern, and hurry back to the Manor". Almétha's manner was now curt and formal, in stark contrast to her earlier warmth.

Léthwyn rose, and reached for his cloak. "I will go with him as a far as the edge of the Fens".

Almétha reach out and grasped his wrist. "Leth…". Her voice caught in her throat, and she let his hand drop, and smiled faintly. "As you wish", she added softly, and turned away.

---

Léthwyn and the younger man threw on their warm cloaks, stowed the bundled over Llúwyn’s shoulder, and with quick goodbyes, hurried out into the night.

"Léthwyn will make sure he gets back", Yálow said in a hushed tone, speaking to Almétha’s back.

She stood silently, looking at the door through which the young man had just passed. Alémtha was still for a moment more.

"It is not the boy I am afraid for" she said.

---

The mist was thick and dank, and the light of the lantern hardly made a dent in the cloying night as the two figures hurried along the muddy path, splashing here and there in puddles and rivulets that crossed their way.

The older man drew up short, unexpectedly, and the younger nearly fell upon him. "Hold on boy." Léthwyn raised the lantern and looked about him, peering into the gloom. "Dam this mist! The path is run to nothing."

Llúwyn peered up at Léthwyn, his face lit by the faint glow of the lamp. "What do you mean? You know these Fens like your own hand."

"That I do", said the older man, "But this path is not the path to the Manor. We’d best turn back. You’ll not be going home tonight. That’s enough of wandering in this accursed mist."

They turned and began to retrace their steps. They made their way carefully, and as they moved a faint glow began to suffuse the mist.

"The moon is rising", Léthwyn muttered, but said no more.

Soon after he stopped once more. He lifted the lamp once more, and Llúwyn’s heart fell. He could see beyond the old man that the path disappeared into a wide pond, the dark smooth surface of which was cold with the reflected light on the slipping mists. There was no way forward.

"Now we must use all that we know of the Fens" Léthwyn whispered, as he crouched down and felt the waters. He shook his head and rose upon once more, look about. "This is ill, young Llu. These waters are quite still. We must find a flow, so that we can gauge our bearings."

Carefully once more, they made their way back the way they had come. Every few yards, Léthwyn would reach down into a pool or rivulet, seeking a direction of flow. But all the pools were dank as the breath of hell.

Suddenly, the older man seemed to disappear before Llúwyn. The was a great splash, and the light went out. Everything was suddenly completely dark. All Llúwyn could hear was cursing and splashing, and then as his eyes adjusted, he as much felt as saw the older man rise in front of him.

"Bog-mere" the old man sputtered, his teeth chattering with the cold. "And now the lantern is gone". For a moment they stood still, their cold breath adding to the teeming mists.

Then the boy reached out and drew off the old man’s cloak. "Here," he said, "take mine, Leth", passing his dry cloak to the soaking man of the Fens.

"We cannot tarry now", the shaking Léthwyn said. "This pool has a flow, in that direction, which means we must go this way", he said, gesturing off his right.

The boy looked out in that direction, and noticed a faint but sickly light seemed to glimmer through the mist. "Look", he said. "What can that be?".

"I know not", said Léthwyn, "But that is the direction we must go in any case".

They picked their way carefully through the mires, pools and bogs. As they did, the faint glow remained ahead of them, not seeming to grow brighter. At last they reached an open space, and the mist appear to clear somewhat. Dank ancient stones reared out of the mist before them, covered in moss and wet with the night dew. They had once, it seemed, held aloft a roof of stone, which now lay piled about the crumbling pillars.

Léthwyn shivered. "I know this place". He pointed to a nearby column. "See, boy, this is an ancient house of the Barren one".

By the light of the moon, between the scudding clouds and drifts of mist, they could make out figures graven in the careworn stone. Many inter-twining patterns lay around a large image of a bird. The bird was entwined by a serpent, but the head of the serpent lay between the beak of the bird.

Llúwyn peered forward at the images. "Leth – look. See here, a heron and a serpent. How strange – for the heron is the bird upon the crest of the arms of my clan."

He turned to see the old man’s response, and realised he was quite alone. Léthwyn was nowhere to be seen.

---

At first he was confounded. He called out Léthwyn’s name, at first quietly, but then more loudly, but the deadening silence of the marshy night seemed to swallow his calls. He searched through the ruins, but soon his voice was hoarse, and his skin grew cold. He knew it would be best if he did not wander off, but stayed where he had last seen the old man.

He sat beneath the stone image, and tried to rest, but he was fretful. Ever as he drifted into sleep, the cold damp would prod him back to wakefulness. Eventually he seemed to drift into a sleep of sorts. It was not a pleasant sleep. For it seemed to him that the very stones awoke and shifted. Images of a great bird, wading in the marsh, and nearby, a serpent moving cold and quiet, slithering silently in the dank waters. The bird, it seems to the boy, is hunting, as is the serpent. Indeed each seems to hunt the other. He wishes to cry out, to warn the bird, but it seems entranced, its white plumage reflecting the light of the moon on a dank mere. Ever closer draws the serpent.

---

He woke with a start. Some noise or other thing had disturbed him. All seemed still as before. The moon shone intermittently between scudding clouds and drifts of mist.

Suddenly, he saw or thought he saw, a movement, amongst the far stones. He gazed into the dark, but the shadows confounded him. He had begun to relax, when it seemed as if the shadows themselves began to move. He was gripped by a sudden fear that chilled him to the heart. For the shadows took on the shape and form of a great serpent, or so it seemed.

The boy could not move. His hands and limbs seemed frozen with the cold, and his heart raced with fear. The shadow moved towards him like a spreading pool of thickening blood. A breeze flicked the mist, the shadow wavered. Llúwyn suddenly felt calm and sharp, remembered the dagger at his hip.

Then the moon shone through the parting mist once more, and then, as if it were smoke, the shadow seemed to be there no more, and the boy’s numb limbs seemed to come to life. He reached for his dagger, and drew the cold blade. It felt heavy and yet small in his numb hands.

Llúwyn turned and the shadow was upon him. He felt its cold wet presence.

The Serpent! He lunged at it.

The shadow cried out as his blade struck it, and slumped to the ground.

Llúwyn stood stunned until a faint wind parted the mists and the light of the moon shone down on the floor of the ancient temple. At his feet lay Léthwyn, his blood oozing from a gaping wound. Llúwyn dropped the dagger which clattered on the stones.

"Leth! What have I done?" The boy dropped to his knees beside the dying man.

"Hush", croaked the old man. He reached up and put his fingers the boys’ lips. He wheezed and coughed, and blood splattered on his tunic. "You are not … to blame".

A further fit of coughing racked his body, and Llúwyn cradled the old man’s frozen, sodden form.

"Greater forces are at work. The Cycle Turns. The Heron takes the Serpent". The old man grabbed Llúwyn’s wrist. "You are both accursed and blessed young Master." He smiled weakly, pressed the young mans hand, and then his eyes drooped closed and he was still.

---

They found him the next day, amongst the ruins, cradling old Léthwyn’s body, shivering with a great chill. Without Mistress Almétha’s skill and care, such a chill might have been the death of him.

The Fenlanders did not speak of the night’s events to young Llúwyn’s clan. The death of Léthwyn was not mentioned, only that the young man had become lost in the Fens, and that they had found him cold and sickening the next day. Nor was any word said of the ruins, the graven images, or the old man’s last words.

But Llúwyn knew. He knew he had been chosen. Chosen by the Father of the Barren Cycle, on Mixers’ night. He was the Heron, just as Léthwyn had been the Serpent before him. His time would come, and the cycle would turn once more.

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T’lén’k’târi: The Earthmasters

T’lén’k’târi: The Earthmasters
First of all, the Ancients...

Well, we might as well begin at the beginning, with the first folk, if folk they were, to leave aught that still stands.

How do we know about them? Well, that's not easy, and the answer's a bit circular. You see, we know about them because their structures are still here, and we know their structures belong to them because they don't seem to belong to anyone else. Well, I suppose they belong to us now, to those of us brave enough to explore them, what with the original owners long gone. How long gone? Well, that's a tough one.

A friend of mine, a clever fellow he was, a scholar in Beréma he was, he told me that the Earthmasters left more than 10,000 years ago... Yes I know it's a long time, but you know, I think it might be even longer than that. When did they arrive on Kèthîra? I have absolutely no idea, but they must have been here for quite a long time. How do I know that? Well, I don't, but they built a lot of stuff so I think it's a good guess.

You've probably all heard stories about the Earthmasters; there are plenty about. Most of 'em are rubbish... Not all of them: I said 'most'.

Long before man or elf or dwarf came into the world, perhaps e'en afore the gods were birth'd... there came the Ancients, the Earthmasters...

Well, I don't know if it's blasphemy or not. I suppose you'd better ask a priest, but I doubt there are many who want to pronounce on this sort of thing. Some might even deny the Earthmasters ever existed, but we know better, don't we? Anyway, it's not blaspheming against my religion. What religion is that? Well, I don't think I'll tell you. Can I get on with it? Thank you, although if you thought the last part was blasphemy you won't like the next bit.

They were beings supreme, godlike, mayhap gods themselves. Yes, I did say...

The Sinái were the first to find their works, and they marveled at the majesty and power of their structures, and said of them,

O Mighty cones and shadow’d spires
That quell the living heart
That cast thy baleful unseen glooms
And tear the soul apart.

What daunted hand, what twisted fear,
Hath raised thy roof and wall?
Against what horror art thou wrought?
What power caused thy Fall?

No of course not... they said it in their own language; this is a translation. Why does it rhyme? I don't know, it must be a very good translation.

The world has changed ere the Sinái first found the works of the Earthmasters, forests now stand where once there were none, and men have planted crops where forests bathed in unchanging winds. The nature of the world is change, yet the works of the Ancients endure. Still, it is harder to find them, now, hidden away in the nooks and crannies of the world... avoided as they are, for they are works of power, artefacts of terrible magick.

No I'm not trying to scare you, I'm saying it as my Mum told me. Well, if you feel that way, go and listen to another skald... Well then, sit quietly.

There are many places of the Earthmasters in these lands. No I'm not going to give you a list. They are dangerous places where strange and frightening things are likely to happen. Wise men avoid them... and people who don't know where they are avoid them... I'm wise, and you're in the dark. Maybe I'll tell you more later. But, for now, go to sleep.

N. Robin Crossby

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