The Bashful Boy
It takes me twenty minutes of concentrated healing, but eventually my ribs recenter themselves, and my spine stops making that particular sound. The injury that Greyscale gave me, gives me pause. What is the upper limit of my healing? Could I regenerate limbs? Survive a decapitation?
I walk up to the upper plane, where Hermann has made an incredible breakfast, as usual. But one thing stands out of the ordinary. My chair. It isn’t the ordinary chair I usually sit in.
“Hermann?”, I call out. He enters the kitchen. “What?” “The chair. What happened to my old chair?” Hermann sits down. He shrugs with a non-plussed expression. “It broke down.” I mirror his movement and sit down in the unfamiliar chair. “Can it be repaired?” He stares at me, somewhat incredulous. “You want to spend serious money on an old chair, which might not never be the same, when you can have three other chairs for maybe a tenth of the price of the repair? That particular chair predates my arrival here in Fallowfell which makes it old.”
I nod at him.”Fine”, he sighs, defeated. “When did you arrive in Fallowfell, if I might ask?” He frowns. ” 17′. Or maybe 18′?” “You mean 1918?” “Yeah.” “Why?” He unfurls the Daily Fallowfeller and read the news. “Have you ever heard about a river in France called Somme?”
/A site of a great battle during the First World War, Verde replies./
“Sure. Wasn’t it a site of a great battle during the First World War?”, I parrot. “It was.” He pauses. Closes his eyes.”Imagine kilometers of wire. Men sitting in the trenches, knowing that they will die in a hailfire of bullets. That there is artillery at such a far distances that you cannot see it, but they can certainly kill you. At then came Fleurs-Courcelette and the advent of tanks in warfare.” He shudders.” A famous man once said: Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word. He couldn’t have been more right. Anyhow, I was wounded, became friend with a Swedish nurse, followed her here to Fallowfell and the rest is history.”
I feel like there is more to the story, but I am too afraid to scare him away from the subject.
“Who was the nurse?” He smiles. “Your grandmother actually.” Something wistful passes through his tone when he says that. “Speaking about Fallowfell…”, I ask with a speculative tone. “Hmm?” “Those stones at the Havenius Orchard? What’s the deal with those?” He sips some tea. “I am no witch or sorcerer to tell you about magic, but as I have understood it, they’re a barrier.” The ‘barrier’ sure didn’t stop me. “For what?” “I don’t know. I wasn’t here when the Founders built Fallowfell. I don’t who among their numbers had magic. An educated guess would say that it was Sven-Erik Havenius himself, or that someone in the Havenius family at some point could use magic.”
I dip my sandwhich in strawberry-yogurt. ” Do we have anything like that?” “If you’re asking whether I have a gigantic Greater Ward at hand? No, but I have made sure that this house is safe.” “How?” He takes out a pen and writes something in the newspaper. Crosswords is one of his vices, I even think he won a prize some years back. “I have got a horseshoe, inverted of course, over the door for various German fae. Back in the Thirties, when they rebuilt this house, I secretly placed holy symbols in the foundation meant to oppose undeads, spirits and whole other host of nasties– holy radiation we can call it. There are small bags and other containers filled with salt at every opening, every window for the things that are corrupted in nature. The ‘frame’ of this house contains metals from titanium to copper, from silver to gold. Metals filled with great and symbolic purpose. Barring all these things, there is still one final defense measure.”
He puts his right hand over his left knuckle and twists. The knack echoes in the kitchen. “Me.” There is a glint in his eyes. For some reason it reminds me of Gomagog. “Could you take Greyscale in a fight?” “In his human form certainly. In his Great-Form? It would be difficult. Not impossible– those thin wing-membranes, those big eyes, there are alot of weak spots.”
I grab some toast as I think of his boast, or is it fact? I put some of Hermann’s infamous blueberry jam (one person described it as the holy combination of the piss of an unicorn and ambrosia) on my toast. “Is there a way to mask one’s scent?” “Mask how?” “Well yesterday I smelled the barrowman. Then, an hour and half later, I couldn’t smell him anymore.” “Scents dissipate.” “No, not like this. There was no scent.”
Hermann takes another sip of his tea. “There are ways to mask the scent of a person. I know the fae can do it.” That explains why I couldn’t smell the dwarf.
/I could have told you that./ Then why didn’t you say anything? /You didn’t ask./ Well, in the future, you can reply.
I hear Hermann say something interesting. “Wait, could you repeat that?” “That some supernatural creatures have abilities you’ve never dreamed of?” “No, the part before that?” “That I can walk unnoticed if I want to?” “Yes, that part. Could you show me?” Hermann laughs. Between one of his chuckles I must have closed my eyes, because when I open my eyes, he is gone.
“Here.” I look up. He is standing directly behind my chair. “How….?” I blink and he is gone. I hear a rustle, and he is back in his chair, reading the newspaper. “Can the barrowman do that?” “I don’t think he has the same exact ability, but something along the same vein. Then there is Perenelle’s call.” “Perenelle called?” “She called ten minutes ago to tell me, or perhaps you, that Gomagog is fine. Apparently he caught the barrowman leaving the place of the crime, and fought him. He had the upper hand, had even ripped off his arm, when the barrowman bit him.”
I stare at him. “Ironic, isn’t it?” That wasn’t what I was thinking of, but yea. “In the ensuing confusion, the arm and the barrowman disappeared.” “And Gomagog?” “He’s fine, and will probably be out of the hospital by noon. But doing the same trick that I did, mind-magic? It wouldn’t have worked on someone like Gomagog. He’s too old, got too many tricks up his sleeve.”
“So how did he do it?” He shrugs. “Beats me. It doesn’t matter– you’re not picking a fight with him.” I smile and change subject. “Magic and mass– they’re connected, right?” He nods. “If that’s the case, then what is there to stop me from, say, turn into a woman?” “Have you tried?” “No”, I say a little bit dumbfounded. “Try it and see what happens.”
/Rune, this isn’t going to work./ I ignore Verde. I draw on magic, and imagine myself as a woman. Longer hair. Tits. Two eyes. Nothing happens. Magic flows around me, but there is like I have hit a wall.
“There is…. a template of sorts for each person. Nidar can assume his Great-Form, he can partially shape-shift, breathe fire and some other things. He cannot however take the form of a woman, or another animal for that matter, or change his appearance too far from what he looks.” I think of that for a second. “What decides this template?” “Some of it is inherent in the magic you use. Others are personal, subconscious.” One thought comes to me. But I am almost too afraid to ask it. “Could I regrow a new eye?” Hermann shakes his head. “The loss of your eye has become an accepted part of your identity now. If you’d had magic close to the accident…” He trails off.
We sit silently and eat for a while, each for his own reasons. “Who’s Lamia?” Hermann scratches his chin. “One of Greyscale’s siblings, If I remember correctly. That’s pretty much all I know. You’d do better to ask the source” “Huh…”
I feel pretty full. But there is one final thing that has bothered me, that I want to ask. “Ochre.” Hermann nods. “You have felt it, haven’t you. Whispers from the lake. Wondered about the red stone. The uncanny library. The black rooms, which I might add, weren’t normally bathrooms. The athenaeum, were the disciples of old would gather.”
Hermann clears his throat. “There is a story about Fallowfell- not one we tell normals”, he says with the infliction of ritual.
I nod enthusiastically.
” Three centuries ago, in the heart of London, a young boy was born. He had hair the color of sunrise, skin like teak and eyes that burned black. His looks earned him the scorn and hatred of his peers. Witch they called him, not knowing how close to the mark they were. For you see, the young boy could hear the groan of earth, and in turn the earth obeyed him.
He had no parents, no mother to tuck him in at night, no father to tell him what’s wrong or right, and so he ran on the streets, wild and free. He took the name Esaia, after a prophet, and the surname Eldridge because he liked the sound of it. As he grew up, young Eldridge longed for companionship, for people such as he. Men and women gifted with magic.
Spurred by this great longing, Eldridge traveled. He went to the New World, where he spoke to the wise-women of the Flats, he traveled to the southern deserts in the Ruins of Nazca and heeded the advice of those who had incarcerated the Many-Eyes. He went to the Land of the Rising Sun and spoke to the ancient guardians of Kyoto. He went to the Plains and shared smoke with the shamans who gave Genjhis Khan his victories. He knelt at the Valley of Kings and discussed in truth with the spirits of great Pharaohs. He went to Jungles of Africa and witnessed those who wear wooden masks of great beasts dance. He swam across the Southern Seas til he reached the South Pole, and while there, he heard the songs of spiritmasters.
To each he came with an offer. An offer to join him, and create a haven where magic-users would be free. Some took him up on it, others relented, saying that they would in time, while some refused.
In one of his travels, he had heard about a country in the Far North. A country sparsely populated. The kind of country where one can disappear. A country and a small city, free from the toxic influence of the White God. Fallowfell they called it.
Eldridge and his followers had found their Eden. In great secrecy Esaia now used his magic. He dug a large hole, soon filled with water. He put an island on the lake. Using the power of his blood and his mighty magic, he raised a great building.
And so in this great building, which the locals came to call ‘Ochre’ Esaia taught. At day it acted as a front,an office for merchants, and at night, Eldridge and his disciples bent magic to their whims….”
Hermann’s voice loses its inflection. “So Eldridge… created Ochre, the surrounding lake and all in it with magic?” ” I can’t tell you about all those other things, but I have it from someone who was there. Eldridge built Ochre with nothing but magic and wit.”
“So what happened to the man himself?” He shrugs. “Nobody knows. The one thing that the ‘normal’ stories, and our stories have in common is that Esaia always die at the end, each death more outlandish than the other. That he called something which should never be called. That an ex-lover did him in. But nobody really knows.”
Four hours later, and I am at the cinema, awaiting Nevena. When all other ideas fails you, a movie is a sure-bet. I am about ten minutes early, but it’s better to be early than late. The clock ticks down 14.00. I look around. No bike, no Nevena. We decided on a midday-movie, so that we could grab something to eat afterwards.
The clock reaches 14.05 and I am starting to worry. Well, she said she’d come. Why would she lie?
At 14.10 the commercials are probably done, and I am starting to freeze.
14.15, and I tense my muscles in contractions, a feeble attempt to get the blood flowing through my veins.
I check my phone when the clock reaches 14.20, but nothing. No messages, no calls.
Around 14.25 I start to feel it. Like a little child left at the cashier, and mommy has gone to pick something else up. That feeling of betrayal, of being alone.
14.30 and I walk away. I feel something wet flow down my face as I straddle the seat of my bike.