We travel north, generally avoiding any other settlements, which I find inconvenient because it would be nice to enjoy some local hospitality, but which Ewythr insists on. He remains pleasant while we travel, but any hint that we might visit with anyone else sends him spiraling into one of his foul moods. Our rations serve us well, and two weeks after leaving Groa and Alaeifr’s farm, I still feel secure in our food situation, although the thought does occur to me that we will need to resupply before returning south. That’s assuming we ever do turn south.
The weather is warm, although it rains more often than I’d prefer, and we spend the dry days just vaguely damp from the moisture. I take it as a small consolation that Ewythr seems to be equally miserable, although being perpetually wet does little to improve his smell.
It’s after the third week that Ewythr finally stops going north. He stops on an especially pronounced hill in a very hilly area several days out from any sign of civilization. It happens rather suddenly as we’re trudging ever farther into the wilderness.
On top of this hill, Ewythr simply stops walking and looks down at the ground. “Where’s my daughter?” he exclaims, and with a sudden ferocity he drops to his knees and begins clawing at the ground.
“What are you going on about now?” I ask. I’ve grown used to Ewythr’s odd tempers, and he does little to surprise me anymore. He hasn’t mentioned his daughter in over a week, though, and this sudden recollection is unlike him. Usually he notices something or I say something that reminds him of his daughter, and that brings his wrath down on me. In this case, I’m not the target, which is what catches me off guard.
“Here! I must find my daughter!” he yells, and after he sees that digging won’t be of much use, he begins running frantically around, looking for something to help him get to what it is he wants.
I follow him at a decent distance, since I’m unsure of what Ewythr might do in this state. He runs around the hill several times, passing by me in a circle that he traces until finally he stops and settles in one spot.
“Tell my daughter I would speak with her!” he cries, and there’s a great rumbling as the ground before him rumbles and shakes. I watch as Ewythr repeats his trick with the water, but this time he makes use of the ground itself, raising up great clods of dirt that clump together and rise to form a barrier around him. “Come away!” The dirt rises up, and then with a gesture, it crashes down in front of him, making great gouges in the ground and tearing the grass to shreds. The hill slowly parts before the old man, and I’m amazed as I watch an opening appear at the base of the hill outlined in old stone.
“What is this?” I ask, amazed at the discovery.
“A barrow for Albion’s issue. Come, servant!” Ewythr rushes into the darkness, completely careless of potential dangers, and I find myself running behind him.
“What are we looking for?” I ask.
Ewythr spits in response, “My daughter. This is her place of rest.”
Inside, we stand before a tall stone archway with elaborate carvings on it that look like they depict a mixture of elves and humans, working together. I step forward to get a closer look at the engravings, and notice that the eyes of the humans all seem to be marked with some sort of design that looks like light coming from their eyes.
“What? Place of rest? Do you mean she’s dead?” I ask.
“Pour on!” Ewythr cries, and my vision clears. The shadows disappear, and the carvings spring into new relief with details and colors that I couldn’t see before. The pictures seem to tell a story of the elves and humans working together to build a community. They appear to be led by a distinct human woman and an elf man, who are marked in the images with elaborate clothes. At the top of the arch a figure appears, hunched over with a long beard and golden points for eyes. Falling down the other side of the archway, more pictures show the bearded man destroying crops, setting fire to buildings, and killing the humans and elves. The last image at the base shows the elf man and human woman pointing as the bearded man walks away.
“What is all this?” I ask, but Ewythr ignores me, walking deeper inside. I follow him through the archway, which leads down into a turning stairwell. After a minute walking down, the stairs stop at another doorway that has the same sequence of pictures from the first archway carved around it. Passing through it, we come to a hallway lined with long, thin, stone chests.
I stop to examine one of the chests. It’s covered with dust, and as I wipe it away I feel that the top is not smooth, but has multiple dips and bumps. Underneath the dust I see the carved image of an elf woman. Engraved above her head is some script that resembles Elvish. I want to take a closer look, but the light starts to fade, and I turn to realize that Ewythr’s moving on down the long hall.
“So this is a tomb,” I say as I run to catch up with him. The light returns to my eyes and I see now that all of these chests bear similar carvings on their lids. Their dimensions are right for holding the bodies of elves, and I realize these are coffins. Ewythr refuses to slow down so I can get a closer look. He seems intent on ignoring everything but his objective.
Farther down the hall, slightly bigger coffins appear mixed in with the smaller ones. I try to examine one before Ewythr gets too far away, swiping at the dust and seeing that it bears the image of a bearded man. The same script is engraved above his head, but the figure appears human. The light starts to fade, and I hurry to catch up.
After walking for what seems like a mile, we reach another archway. It has the same story as the others, but there’s an extra image at the bottom showing the woman being laid in a box while the elf man stands over her. The bearded man is a distant figure in the background, facing away from the elves and humans.
Ewythr doesn’t hesitate to walk through the arch and into the chamber beyond.
Inside, two large stone coffins lie parallel on a dais. Behind them, carved in relief on the stone walls, are large, detailed images of the elf man and human woman from the pictures on the archways. They each wear a crown, wrought in delicate shapes and whorls like the branches of trees.
Ewythr spits at the coffin before the woman’s image. “Are you our daughter?” he shouts. The words echo on the stone and fade.
Nothing but silence responds, and Ewythr stands there waiting for several minutes, he whole body tensed with rage.
He steps forward and shouts, “Answer me! Most small fault, how ugly did you show that wrenched my frame of nature!” Ewythr drops to his knees and his shouts turn to sobs. “Can you tell who I am?”
I’m not sure what exactly to do, but I move closer to Ewythr and lay my hand on his shoulder. He jerks away and wipes at his eyes.
“I am ashamed that these hot tears should make you worth them. Untended wounds of a father’s curse pierce my every sense about you.” The old man pulls himself to his feet and climbs the dais, slamming his fist down on the lid of the woman’s coffin. “Yet have I left a daughter who will flay your wolfish visage!” He turns to me, his golden eyes flaring, and points to the coffin. “Slay the cur!” he yells.
“What?” I ask. I think he’s telling me to kill a dead woman, which is about half way to making sense for Ewythr.
In response, he grabs the lid of the coffin and rips it away, flinging the slab against the wall, where it crashes and crumbles. “Kill her!”
I edge closer to the dais, but the angle from the floor obscures my view of the coffin’s contents. Climbing up, I expect to see old bones, but instead there lies the woman whose image is carved behind her. She looks as if she’s only sleeping, though there’s no hint of movement or breath. I glance at Ewythr, and he’s staring at the body, seething.
“Do it!” he rasps.
I raise my spear and aim it at the woman’s heart, but fear seizes me and I freeze. “I’ve never–” I begin.
The woman’s eyes wrench open, and she stares at me. They’re a dark honey color.
Startled, I back away and slip on the edge of the platform, falling backwards on the cold floor.
Slowly, the woman climbs out of her coffin and stands on the dais, looking imperiously at first me, then at Ewythr.
The old man scowls at the woman and spits at her. “Detested kite!” he yells.
“You wretch,” says the woman, and I can feel the rage in her voice even though she sounds calm as flowing water. “Again you come here with a pawn to attempt your murder.”
“Servant, slay her!” Ewythr cries as he recoils from the terrible white woman.
She turns towards me. “You should not have come here, child. This man is a curse.”
“You are accursed!” says Ewythr.
Turning her gaze back to him, she waves her hand, and he is flung against the wall. Brittle bones break, and his head turns sharply with a loud snap. He crumples to the floor, motionless.
“Why did you do that?” I scream, and rush forward. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, only raging. I thrust my spear at the woman, but she catches it with her hand and wrenches it from my grip. Casually, she snaps the head off and drops it.
Even without a weapon, I charge forward, trying to punch her, kick her, do anything to hurt her, but every blow she blocks with ease. Faster than I can see, she reaches out and clutches my throat. Her fingers grip like stone and squeeze, choking me.
“You should have run. Instead you fight for that thing,” she nods towards Ewythr’s body, “when he will not mourn you after you’re dead. Pitiful.”
Her grip tightens, and my vision goes black at the edges. I can’t breath, and my throat aches and burns. As I draw closer to passing out, I realize that I’m going to die here, all because I wanted to help that crazy old man.
I fall to the floor, air rushing back into my lungs. I feel lightheaded, and just vaguely absorb what’s happening as the woman turns back to the wall, swatting at bits of rubble that fly towards her. Trying to get my bearings, I push myself up to my knees and feel my hand brush against something cold. The spear head. Sluggishly, I look up at the woman who’s still focused on whatever it is that’s throwing debris at her, and grip the spear head in my hand. I probably only have the one chance.
Steadying myself, I jump up and jab the spear head into the woman’s chest. Where I expect to meet resistance, the blade sinks in easily. She looks down at me, horrified, as she begins to disintegrate from her chest outward. Her honey eyes stare accusingly at me.
“Fool,” she says just before she collapses into a pile of dust.
This weekend I’ve been recovering from a pretty bad cold (fortunately, the worst of it was Saturday morning), so I’ve been kind of worn out by all the writing. Nonetheless, I continue to truck along. If I can maintain my current pace, I’ll reach 50k words to win NaNoWriMo before Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure that won’t be the end of this story, but I may take a few days to relax once I get there.
So Rachael gets the wonderful burden of reading all of my first draft work, so she’s seen a lot more of this year’s offering than anyone else has (in exchange, I get the privilege of reading her first drafts). She told me she thinks this section is the strongest of my current novel, at least as far as plotting goes. I’m still neck deep in working out how this mess is going to resolve (I have an idea for it, but I’ve not sketched out any finer details yet), so I’m just a little too close to give my own assessment of what I’ve produced so far. Mostly, I worry that I’m writing tons of dialogue with relatively little action. My settings feel sparse to me, and it’s a constant struggle maintaining the right voice for my narrator (I’ve written all my pieces set in this world using first person present tense, which I like, but it’s very limiting in regards to what I can show without giving my narrator implausible knowledge).
Anyhow, this is my fiction offering for the week. If you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to share them below. There are only two weekends left in November, and maybe by the time we get to the last one, I’ll be back to doing some flash fiction.