Photography, The Wall, by Annette Marie Hyder
Advice the Autumn Crone Gave Me On Climbing the Wall
By Annette Marie Hyder
(from the Night Fairytales series)
Continued from previous installment.
I rose from the realm of dreams slowly. Feeling softness beneath my neck and taking that for the great wolf’s back I cautiously opened my eyes. There was a closed-in dimness to my surroundings and a smell that suggested roots and cold. The cold however was only a suggestion that my nose made as the actual temperature was warm. I saw shadows dancing on what I took to be the ceiling of the dimness and heard a soft noise as if of lapping. The taste of wood ash teased the tip of my tongue.
Rolling over to get off the great wolf’s back proved to be impossible. This is because I was no longer on the great wolf’s back and the softness I took for him was actually the softness of the bed I found myself upon; a bed piled high with all manner of raggedy looking blankets but whose softness felt like fur and pillows heaped at the headboard which fairly quivered with the down they were stuffed with. Peeping over the top of this mountain of coverings and cushions I found the quiet lapper — a fire in the far corner contentedly sucking on the bones of wood on its fireplace plate.
When I say that I saw the fire eating its dinner of wood I am not only speaking metaphorically. I was born with the second sight and I see things like this regularly.* I saw the fire as it actually was at the moment. A diner in the corner enjoying a meal.
Continuing to look around I found that I was in a troglodyte’s cozy dwelling with a bed, food stuffs hanging from the dimness of the ceiling, and a fire crackling away in the hearth — but no Gnar in sight. And from the size of the bed I was on I rapidly came to the conclusion that whoever lived here was of an unusually large size. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness I also noted that the cave ceiling was impressive. The ceiling must reach 24 feet in places and in others soared right out of sight. It was from the ‘lower’ heights of 24 feet that the foodstuffs were hung, sausages, onions, fat and sassy bulbs of garlic. I even saw dried fish strung and hung in batches that made them look like they were swimming through the air and I saw many, many herbs hung too.
There was what looked to be a workbench to my far right, covered in all manner of jars and vials. There was a huge chair, a huge mortar and pestle on the workbench and tools shaped for fearsomely large hands. The wall behind the workbench looked to be embedded with circles of glass. I got up to investigate and found that the floor was a good ways down. So I made a jump for it from my reposey height and then made my way quickly to the workbench noticing a passage to my right as I went.
I had been able to see the top of the workbench because of the height provided by the bed and being in the bench’s shadow now and a good 5 feet too short to see the top I looked at the wall instead. I could see that the circles of glass in the wall behind the workbench extended all the way down to the cave floor. The circles were the bottoms of bottles that were stored in the wall and each bottle had a rune scratched on its flasky bottom.
It was at this point that I heard someone coming. Two someones by the sound of it. I leaned back into the shadows under the workbench and looked around the stoutness of its left front leg. I wasn’t too surprised to see Gnar and a person of unusual size enter the cave together from the passage I had noticed earlier. A person of unusual size? A giant, yes. And Gnar. And I came right out as if I hadn’t been trying to hide at all when Gnar looked directly at me and said to his companion, “There she is. I told you she’d be up by now.”
“Come on out, girl. And I will introduce you to our benefactor.” Gnar said. The giant beside Gnar bent down to his knees and I could see that he had a kind and lively face. He had the green eyes that I had seen on most of his kind and the usual lack of hair. No hair on his head, no eyebrows or eyelashes either, no burly patches on his hands or chest either from what I could see. But this giant did have, against all expectations, a rare growth of hair in the form of a mustache. Four white hairs graced each side of his philtrum and stuck out sharp and stiff. The mustache reminded me of cat whiskers in its sparsity.
“She doesn’t give her name.” Gnar said to the giant beside him. “So I shall introduce her as ‘Girl’.” I felt inexplicably insulted at this.
“Latham,” he said, turning to the giant, “this is Girl. Girl, this is Latham.” I put my best foot forward and gave Latham a big smile before dipping over said best foot in a deep curtsy that would have been a thing of beauty in any royal’s palace.
“Pleased to meet you, Latham.” I said.
“And I am pleased to meet you, Girl.” Latham replied.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Latham. I thank you because I feel certain that, matching person to belongings, this must be your home that I found myself in when I awoke.”
“It is indeed my home and you are welcome to it.” Latham said. “Many have come for rest and respite from the long road and everyone who comes and stays for one night stays for free. But if you wish to stay for any length beyond that there is a fee.”
“Oh well, I thank you again and with the best will in the world will be going on my way.” I said.
“Girl. It would be better to find out the price of another night here in Latham’s home before deciding to take on the storm that rages outside.” Gnar said.
Storm? I didn’t see any sign of a storm. No tell-tale hints in their appearance either.
As if reading my mind, Gnar said “We have not been outside because of the severity of the storm. We came in through the passage from Latham’s storage room. Gnar’s eyes gleamed when he mentioned Latham’s storage room and I wondered what Latham kept there.
“You don’t mind if I check out the storm for myself then?” I said. “I’d like to take its measure, look and see.”
“Be my guest.” Latham said gesturing towards the passage. “You have only to go along the passage until it forks and turn left when it does so. Carry on until you come to my front door. It is built right into the cave face and panes of glass frame it from top to bottom on each side. You should be able to get a good view of the storm through those panes. When you return you can tell me if you would like me to open the door for you or if you’d like to stay and pay.”
Following the giant’s directions and silently cursing Gnar for getting me into a situation in which I might be bartering — with a giant — for lodgings, I soon found the fork in the passage and not very long after the door the giant had mentioned with windows looking out upon a fierce and very inadvisable-to-go-out-in snow storm. I touched my fingers to the giant’s beautifully paned windows and breathed three sighs onto the glass. I wrote three sigils of protection into the condensation left by my breath, one for each sigh and one for each person in Latham’s home that night.
“What is your price for a night’s lodging, good Latham?” I asked when I returned. At my question a huge smile split Latham’s face and made his mustache whiskers lift up to the creases beside his giant-green eyes.
“A story, Girl.” Latham said. “A story is the price of a night’s lodging and you get supper and breakfast too.”
At this I sat down immediately, right there on the floor, and began to tell Gnar and Latham one of the stories of fire.
“The first people did not have the flower we call fire when they were new to this world.” I said. “It was
Raven that gave fire to the first people. The Raven of this story is not a raven that you or I would have seen, he is not a clever bird of little stature but he is a being after whom the ravens we have seen were all scattered as reminders of what this one great Raven-being did.
It was Raven who, with the storm to end all storms raging, spread his glossy wings and arched them over the tents of men as he brooded through the night. He knew that Horgul the bear would come soon, icing the seas as he swam them and sucking the warmth from the sun into his all-absorbing white hide.
Everything that Horgul touched with his cracking paws and tenebrous claws felt the clutch of his cold spirit drench them in slivers of terror. The trees stiffened with fear, the grasses and flowers hid underground. Even the water stopped singing, silenced and petrified with Horgul’s coming. Horgul would come soon and then Raven’s feathers, his hen-postruing, would make a well meaning but tattered blanket for his fledgling people.
So Raven flew to the sun and stole a spark of that great fire and brought it back as a gift for his people.
Raven gave the first people fire to fuel their courage and warm their hearts. They made much of it, involving it in almost every aspect of their lives.
No more would they eat their meat raw but they would pass it through their friend the fire, sharing it with the fire and then eating it themselves. No more did they only use skins and furs to keep them warm but these too they shared with the fire, placing them before it and then finding their skins and furs warmer still.
They loved fire and kept it awake all through the night by telling it stories bound in bark. Fire loved the stories that wood tells of deep secrets sought with patient roots and wonderful visions wound through branches and leaves, left there by the wind. The fire’s bright eye kept watch for the first people and they slept through the nights in peace.”
I noticed the fire listening, leaning out and flaring up and then banking back down as I told this story to them. Latham nodded his head. “A good story.” he said.
“I would have preferred one that featured a great wolf.” Gnar said. “But this one was ably told.”
Sometimes when I am telling stories, time takes liberties and spins itself faster or slower than what I think the story should account for. This was the case in this instance and time had raced us to the end of day in between the time I sat down to tell the story and its end.
Latham made a very good supper for us of fish stew, and bread with butter, and onions on the side. There was cold clear water to drink too. And I could tell that Latham was used to guests of my size because he had utensils, plates and cups to match my modest needs. Gnar turned his nose up at the onions and bread and butter but lapped up his fair share of the stew from a bowl that looked — mind I did not say this — very much like a doggie bowl.
Latham and Gnar took their leave and I briefly wondered where they would be sleeping but gave the thought up as a great wave of irresistible sleepiness overtook me and it was all I could do to climb my way back up into the giant’s bed.
I was glad that they liked the story. I hadn’t told the whole story though and this was out of courtesy to the fire. I hadn’t mentioned that in the story Raven saw that Horgul, with his heavy breath, his howling, might be able to blow the fire out. No I didn’t mention that or the solution Raven had come up with. Nor did I mention that this night was the second time I had found myself inexplicably and suddenly overcome with a sleepiness that seemed spell-like in its urgency.
And there’s one more thing I didn’t mention: the way Gnar had seemed to grow larger when he was carrying me on his back. I wasn’t sure if that had really happened and I have found that some things are better — when you are finding your way — some things are better left unsaid.
To be continued.
* Yes I see ghosts and fairies and any other sort of magical creature you
might happen to think of. I see personifications and I’ve seen
Personification herself. Sometimes this seeing
is a blessing and more often than not a curse. But it is the way that I
see things and so I take it in its course.