Archive for January 2015

the dawning of the dark- installment #3 of ‘dark horses’.   3 comments

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i can’t say i’m as in love with this one as the previous two. the Muse wasn’t singing in my veins as i wrote, it was much harder. the temptation is always for me to put it aside, work on something else, wait until i’ve got it all perfectly ready to unroll, but that’s why i so seldom finish anything. this time i made myself plug through and get it done. AFTER i finish them all maybe i’ll have a better idea of what to tweak, edit or rewrite on this one, but for now it’s got to go in the pot, so i can start on the next one.

and maybe YOU guys will tell me what it needs!

🙂 khairete

suz

The Dawning of the Dark

Lykeion steps out of the woods, adjusting his loin wrap, then feels himself flushing as a group of girls wreathed in early flowers for the Mounykhia festival walk past, giggling. He settles his lyre more firmly on his shoulder, raises his chin and resolutely refuses to look at the gaggle of maidens with their bold eyes and bolder whispers. He strides away manfully, but cannot quite resist a peek back over his shoulder as he approaches the festival crowd, and is rewarded by peals of tinkling laughter.
His cheeks are still hot as he takes his place among the other musicians readying themselves for the procession. His friend Hyakinthos nudges him with a drumstick. ‘What were you up to in the woods, old man? I hope she was worth it! You look like you’ve been caught with your hand in the honeycomb.’
‘Taking a piss, if you must know,’ he snarls back. ‘Why does everyone find it so amusing?’
‘Ho ho! ‘Everyone’, eh? Sorry to hit you on a bruise, my friend! And no one can bruise you like a tender maiden can……….’
Lykeion scowls fiercely, but his friend’s smile is infectious, and in a moment or two he is grinning sheepishly. ‘I was able to subdue the beast before he could further frighten the fawns yonder. But it was a battle worthy of Apollon himself!’
Hyakinthos rolls his eyes, but his retort is lost as the kitharas, pipes, drums and lyres take up a wild, skirling tune, and the maidens dance into the center of the clearing.
Later, after the rites have been performed, and the libations poured, the sacrifices made, and the maidens have danced themselves to a standstill, Lykeion takes the place of honor next to the fire in the deepening dusk. His fingers caress the lyre strings, and a riffle of light notes sail off into the darkening air, and he tells the tale of Artemis petitioning her Father for divine favors, including the title Phosphoria, a bringer of light in darkness. ‘And thus we worship Her in this guise tonight, as Selene swells to ripeness, and we sing Her hymns and praises in the silver moonlight.’
The audience is rapt, spellbound by his voice, music and words. Lykeion is pleased with himself as he ends his tale with a dreamy series of chords, reveling in the effect of his bardcraft. Hyakinthos claps him on the shoulder as he replaces him in the honor seat, and Lykeion wanders off to find a full wineskin.
Drinking deep of a heady, barely-watered blood-red brew, he feels the fumes rise to his head and laughs out loud at the moonbright sky. His earlier embarrassment evaporates. He is young, it is spring, there is wine, and there are girls. People are smiling, nodding, calling out to him as he walks through the throng, staggering only slightly as he waves back, acknowledging the praise. The Arkadian mountains at Mounykhia are a fine place to be.
The lilt of girls’ voices, and the sound of bells catches his attention. A little off to the side, in a clearing of graceful birch trees silver-barked, a small circle of girls chants softly, bodies swaying ever so slightly, their white robes glimmering like the trees, as if they were dryads themselves. Into their center walks a tall girl carrying a round cake. Around the rim are tiny twigs afire with bright flames, creating a circle of brightness. The girl walks slowly, carrying her offering with reverence, and white flowers are bound to her brow.
The girls part and form two lines, still chanting, tiny silver bells on their fingers, and the offering is carried between them to a simple stone shrine covered with branches and flowers. As the full moon’s light moves through the trees and pours over the shrine, the tall girl sets down the shining cake, and the voices raise to a high, pure note of ecstasy as the celebrants raise their arms to the sky. Then suddenly the ritual is over, and the girls resume their everyday aspects, running back to the crowds giggling and shouting, arms entwined around each others’ waists. Only the tall girl remains, standing before the shrine, head bent, long hair cascading before her face.
Something about her manner catches Lykeion’s attention. She seems a little older than the other girls, but that is not what arrests him. Her lowered head, the slight slump of her narrow shoulders strike a note of sorrow in his bard’s heart, and suddenly he is consumed by a fierce need to find out what is causing her pain, and to eradicate it. Before he can analyze his thoughts his feet are carrying him forward into the clearing, not knowing what he wants to say to her, but unable to stop himself. At the sound of his footfalls behind her she pushes her hair back with both hands and turns to face him.
Lykeion smiles his most charming smile, shoving down a frisson of unaccustomed shyness. He angles his body slightly so that his lyre is very visible, making his honored profession clear without being so crass as to point it out. He holds his breath as he watches her wide eyes touch his, then move to his instrument. Maybe she will speak to him, and the awkwardness of the first words will be behind them, and he can bedazzle her with his wit and words and music, and the strange breathlessness which has seized him will dissipate, and she will be just another pretty girl who has fallen under his spell. She will smile, laugh, sing to his music, flirt with him, and moonlit night will pass pleasantly.
This scenario plays out so delightfully in Lykeion’s head that he is utterly nonplussed when the girl’s eyes slide past him indifferently. She turns back to the shrine, whispers a final prayer, and blows out the few tiny twigs not already extinguished by the fresh evening breeze. Without a word she walks past him, not into the crowds, but into the trees. Her pale robe glimmers like a moonbeam between the white trunks of the birches, and then she is gone.
Lykeion finds himself back among the dwindling crowd, a disconsolate wanderer. Seeing Hyakinthos passing around a wineskin with some of the other musicians, he decides to join them and forget the tall girl in the rough comfort of male companionship.
But as he approaches the little group, he is surprised by the hushed tones of their voices, the absence of laughter, the somberness of the faces. He slips quietly among them, trying to pick up on the timber of the conversation without interrupting it. A man he has never seen before is speaking quickly, almost in a whisper. Lykeion takes a seat silently next to Hyakinthos and leans forward, listening intently.
‘I’ve not encountered any tales from the east, on the plains, but the folk of the highlands and mountains are full of them. Children gone missing, screams in the night, eyes in the forest. Shepherds are starting to watch in pairs and groups; no one wants to be out at night with the flocks alone.’
An older man, his beard resting on his round belly, snorts in derision. ‘There are always tales from the hills. Wolves, most like. Bandits, possibly. Whenever someone’s careless or unlucky we start hearing about kakodaimones, but if you pay attention and don’t shirk your offerings, the gods tend to watch over you. Young folks today, born without stones, they are.’ He takes a deep swig from the wineskin, belches, and passes it along.
Across the fire sits a tall man, thin and nervous-looking, twisting his hands in folds of his festival khiton. ‘All very well to scoff when you haven’t stirred from your home fire all winter. I’ve not only heard the tales and listened to the wailing of women whose small ones have gone missing, I heard the sounds myself, not ten nights back, coming up from the lowlands and seeking a bed for the night. There was a crescent moon, and the twilight was near done, and I was making my way up near the stream that flows east from the Ladon. I stopped to rest, and while sitting on a boulder on the knees of that mountain shaped like a wolf fang I heard footfalls. Not a man; something four-footed, and big. I stayed quiet. I have my knife and a slingshot, but taking down a bear or wolf at night isn’t in my skill set. The footsteps stopped at the treeline, but the silence that fell was not an easy one, and you may sniff at me, but I felt my lads creep up inside me, and I was trembling like a maiden when the reavers come.’
The older man raises a furry eyebrow. ‘Some men aren’t made for the life of a bard. If footsteps in a forest are enough to turn you woman, find a weavers’ group. Our hills are wild, and while more than creatures wander them, they rarely bother a man who knows both his prayers and his weaponry.’
The thin man’s brows draw together. ‘I haven’t finished my tale. Nor am I a coward. I have fought with Mentor’s outfit against the sea raiders, and I know how to handle spear and shield. But this was no bandit or soldier, I tell you, nor was it bear or boar. I could feel eyes on me, and I could feel them take my measure. And more- there was a coldness to that thing out there. It almost seemed as if it were……..I don’t know…… maybe amused by my terror. I could see a glint of green, as if those eyes were blinking at me while they contemplated what to do with me. So I prayed, brothers, and I prayed aloud and hard. And I’m not ashamed to say that while I prayed, I grew so afraid that I called upon my Mam, gone these twelve years. And now that I think back on it, it was then that the thing in the trees left off staring at me like I was a piece of bread and honey, and I heard the footfalls move off. And it weren’t until they’d been gone and quiet for a long stretch of time- I know not just how long- that I heard the normal sounds of the night return.’
A squat drummer with a bushy shock of black wiry hair lets out a yelp of laughter. ‘And did you also piss your breeches like a baby? Call for your Mam? What man would even admit to doing any such thing?’
It is Hyakinthos who speaks into the firelit quiet that follows the round of guffaws. ‘A man who is sharing something true, perhaps. Not many would have the courage to tell that tale to a band of ruffians like you. And it sounds not unlike some stories I’ve heard on my rounds as well. Doors are closed and barred at night, and a simple singer who doesn’t find shelter before the sun sets will not find the hospitality he once did. I thank you, friend, for being brave enough to share your story.’
The thin man stands abruptly. ‘In that vein, I’m off to seek shelter for the night. Hopefully the festival atmosphere of xenia will prevail somewhere, even if not here in our bardic circle.’ He stalks off like a heron.
The man who had been speaking as Lykeion arrived shakes his head. ‘That was ill done, lads. I know that man, and he’s a stout fellow. All of us walk the night paths and know how to handle ourselves, so when one of us says there’s danger in the night, it’s a foolish man who laughs it off. I tell you, there’s something in these hills, and it’s more trouble than we’ve seen in our lifetimes.’ He stands, taking his pipes and the almost empty wineskin. ‘I’m for my bed. There’s a group of fisher folk who have offered me food and protection in return for my tales as they head back to the shore. If you don’t have a place staked out, I suggest you stick together. And stay by the fire.’
Raising a hand, he disappears into the night.
The group of musicians falls silent.
The moon is journeying westward, the stars fainting before it, but Lykeion finds he is not tired, nor inclined to unroll his blankets with the musicians left by the fire, who are beginning to snore. He shoulders his pack, wraps his cloak around himself, unstrings his lyre, and begins to follow the track of the moon, no destination in mind, just walking, and pondering the things he has heard in the course of the festival. But despite the shiver of alarm planted in his head by the bards’ reports, he finds that his mind will not dwell on the troubling tales, but keeps returning to the slender figure before Artemis’ shrine, and how the waves of her hair fell before her face, and how she did not giggle or glance his way, and how her back curved like his lyre from her shoulders. He wonders what color her hair is when not drained of all hues by moonlight. He imagines what her voice sounds like. He plays with different things he could have said, clever things, that might have made her laugh admiringly, and look up at him with those wide eyes full of admiration instead of indifference. He considers scenarios in which he came up with the perfect thing to say that would have stopped her from leaving him alone before the shrine, something witty perhaps, or better yet, something wise, as she did not have the air of a frivolous girl. He is picturing her so vividly that when he sees her climbing the hill before him, her willowy form clearly delineated in the bright moonlight, for a moment he is not even surprised.
She is disappearing over the crest of the hill, almost half a mile ahead of him, when he comes to himself. He almost shouts out to her, but catches himself. A girl walking alone at night in the mountains is unlikely to respond joyfully to a stranger yelling from behind her on the trail. Instead, trying not to make more noise than necessary and alarming her, he quickens his pace and hopes to close the distance between them before alerting her to his presence. He can only hope it will be a pleasant surprise for her, and starts wracking his brain as he climbs for something to say to her that will not make him sound like a rustic idiot.
As he crests the hill, just a few minutes after her, he sees that she has left the faint pathway and is making her way to a little hut, sheltered under an outcropping of stone. A few stately pines grow nearby, casting spiky shadows across the yard where the girl is approaching the doorway. Lykeion is ecstatic. Xenia, the ancient law of hospitality, will likely allow him to sleep not only under a roof this night, but near this girl, and give him a decent chance to make a better impression on her.
But before the girl can reach the shadowed entranceway, the door is flung open and a woman rushes out. She stops dead a few paces from the girl. To Lykeion’s horror, she screams, a terrible jagged sound that rends the bright air, and silences the nightsong of the early spring insects.
The girl rushes forward, grabs the older woman by the arms, and Lykeion can hear her talking urgently but cannot make out the words. The paralysis brought on by that awful scream falls from him, and he begins to run toward the women. At the sound of his rapid footsteps they both turn to face him. The woman thrusts the girl behind her and stands with her hands outstretched as if to ward him off. But the girl twists out from behind, and crouches tautly, ready to spring. Lykeion is shocked to see a slender knife glint bright in the moonlight, and slides clumsily to a halt ten paces from the women, on the patch of earth before their home.
‘No, no, I’m not here to hurt you, I heard the cry and came to help…….’ His words tumble over each other, his breath coming in gasps, his hands like the older woman’s stretched before him, trying to demonstrate a lack of threat even if his voice cannot. The girl does not move. The slash of silver is rock-steady in her hand, and her eyes do not blink. Lykeion tries again. ‘I saw you earlier, at the Mounykhia gathering. I saw you offer the shining-all-around cake. I saw you walking before me up the mountain and hoped to speak to you, maybe to ask for a night’s shelter. I’m a bard. I would never hurt you.’
But before the girl can reply, the older woman’s voice shrills, cracking with hysteria. ‘Where is my son? What have you done with my little boy?’
Finally the tall girl removes her intense focus from Lykeion, turning shocked eyes on the woman. ‘Mother, what are you saying?’
‘Patrokles is gone! Something has taken Patrokles!’

Posted January 22, 2015 by suzmuse in Uncategorized