Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Guardian...

Hello folks! Mark here with my effort at creepy.  This is a new piece and a little different style for me. One of the things I would like to try next, once I finish the Pevanese novels, is something from a single point of view.  Call this a first, raw effort.  This character actually has a name, but I thought it read better without.  In a way, I think this is my halting homage to Cooper and Suitcliff. For those of you familiar with those writers, I think you’ll see why.  Happy Halloween!



The Guardian…


I hate silence. That is when the voices grow the loudest. At night, in my sleep, or what I think is sleep, sometimes I just cannot tell, the cacophony drives me gasping and sweating to full-awake terror.  In those times I search my cell in a frenzy, looking but not finding, suppressing even my own breath as the voices laugh at my fear. I am afraid to sleep, but no matter how I try I always do…and they always come.

They are fae, those voices. Sometimes soft sometimes sharp and nibbling, but always insistent, urging, wanting, demanding, beseeching. I cannot escape them, even though my better sense tells me they are a lie, a figment of my Welsh imagination.

At least that is what the priests told me when I came here, what they continue to tell me when they lock me away to ‘pray’ in my cell when their chants and incense fail to dispel the voices. They ask many questions I cannot answer. Their questions remind me of the voices, and so I doubt…and doubt stills my tongue. They hang in my head, those voices, the way the smoke hangs in the air, taunting, sensual, there, visible in the faint light from the high window above my pallet.

Infinite variety, those voices, but the message, when I can clearly make it out, is almost always the same: Release us, Man. Let us out. We bring great gifts. Power, Man, power could be yours. Release us, set us free.

My cell is cold at night, but when the voices rage, I feel a different kind of cold, a deeper bone chill that strikes at my courage, and I have to fight against the urge to gibber like a madman just to keep myself company in my desolation. And yet my lucid self understands how foolish I must appear. My lucid self actually thinks that I might indeed be a madman. I’m not sure I believe that. I’m not sure I understand what lucid is anymore.

The brothers are kind to me.  They took me in when I arrived here, shoeless and ragged after my demented journey from my hovel in the hills above the Severn.  The Tor drew me like a loadstone, and the voices, which began as a whisper that started my feet southwards, grew louder and louder the closer I came to the Abbey on the eastern slopes. It was as if they drew power from my exhaustion, and yet the brothers assured me I had come to a holy place where rest and redemption were possible. They gave me work to do, food to eat, and prayers.

And at night when the voices push against the barriers none of that matters.

Release us, set us free. Man, little, little Man. We can save you yet. Hear it. Hear it in your heart, Man. Let us free.

I find myself listening to the litany in spite of my revulsion, noting when it changes. At times I think I hear distinct differences among the chorus. There is only one that seems unique, and it comes only after I reach that point where I feel my spirit crumbling. It is the quietest voice of the lot, and yet I always manage to hear it when I need it most; it brings me back from the edge of the pit. It does again tonight.

Stand. Resist. Hold. Let them rail. They cannot break you. In time you will come to the place and see. Stand. Resist. Hold.

I come back to myself. I am in the corner, my fingers bloody from scraping at the mortar binding the rough bricks of my cell.  The voices have not relented, however, and I feel the wave building again.

My search, again, yields nothing tangible. But tonight the geas is stronger than ever before. My temple throbs, as if one of the speakers attempted to drive a spike into my skull. I stifle a scream, or at least I think I do. Sound is a variable of infinite deception to me now. I try the door, expecting futility because I know they lock me in at night, but the latch gives. I stagger out into the dimly lit hall. A single torch gutters near the stairs. I am below the main chancery. A desire for moonlight urges me up and out the main doors. All is dark above, but the half-moon, riding clear for the moment amongst islands of clouds, bathes the area with enough light to make out shapes.

And reveal motion.

The brothers are digging again.

I can see them inexpertly wielding their mattocks, stabbing and gashing the earth. They have sunk pits all over the greensward between the hedge and the chapel. They’ve uprooted gravestones and disturbed the dead. To me, both Welsh and Christian, that is a double sin. As I watch, the voices swell a little, as if they were attuned somehow to what the brothers did, as if they wanted the brothers to actually find what they soiled their fine robes searching for. The Christian in me thinks they have lost their minds, but the Welshman in me knows otherwise.  This place is a portal. Of the barriers between light and dark, this one with its pompous church spires reaching heavenward, this one is the last and greatest; its soaring height sanctified by something other than the holy man on his cross.

I suspect that understanding is the only thing keeping me sane…

I creep along the shadows of the main Abbey building. I can get quite close without them seeing me. They pray as they dig, those priests. I make out the voices of Brother Stephen and Brother Dynas, the two most senior save for the Abbot himself.  I want to laugh at the incongruity of watching important people, gold chain bearing people, scrabbling around in the dirt, manhandling clods into baskets, hefting tools with hands grown soft.

They are mad for sure; I don’t need the voices to tell me that.  Who in his right mind would risk ruining his back and his finely pared nails for dirt? Treasure? Power?

But I know why they dig with such passion. Orders from the king. The savage Henry wanted certainty. After bloodying his hands with gore from midlands to the mountains, Henry wanted assurances, and so the brothers dig.

I listen to them whisper as they work. “It must be here. Just a little further. Looks, see all the signs? This ground was disturbed once. Just a little deeper, then we’ll know. And then we can send proof to Henry. And then. And then…and then glory.”

At the sound of their words the voices I hear in my mind redouble their din. I shrink back in pain, suppressing an answering cry. A bright light sears my closed lids. I feel more than blind.

I feel driven. Yes, there again, that geas. I’d always thought it part of the voices but no. Not now. I blink away the pain and momentarily still the voices. The brothers continue to wrestle with the earth, and suddenly I know.

I know.

I know they are digging in the wrong place, and for all the wrong reasons, and for the wrong king. I see a mattock raised high. I feel its impact like a sword thrust. I fall away from the shadows of the building and run, stumbling down the beaten path, through the hedge, heading for the western slopes.

I either lose my balance or the ground shakes beneath my feet. The voices chitter. I feel a wind, piercing and cold, as if it comes from some primordial, frozen plain. I catch my foot on a rock and fall. I see the ground rushing up to meet me, a space squeezed between two standing stones, and instead of cracking my skull on the path I pass through it. I slice through the earth like a dolphin through a wave, enter an empty space and bounce off a hard surface. I crack my forehead on what must have been a corner.

The voices fall silent. I think I feel blood seeping down into my eyes. I blink once, surprised by the fact that I can see. Then the pain hits me. I go somewhere else. I wonder if this is what a peaceful death feels like.

When I come back, I have to scrape away dried blood from my right eye.  The voices have returned with a different tonal vengeance.  It is as if there are a host of gnarled hands all pushing against a door, and I am the bar straining in its slot. I also can hear, a faint undercurrent, the sound of the priests still at their desecration above.  I force myself to rise and examine my new surroundings.

I am in a tomb whose walls glow faintly with a silver-green light.  Head throbbing, I lean against a stone slab carved with many symbols. Vaguely, I recognize sigils of power from the secret places of my own hills carved in bass relief alongside other Christian symbols.  The slab is a wonder. It looks like it was placed there yesterday. I run my hands along its textured surface. Smooth. The carvings inviolate by time’s wear, and yet I can tell, by the very air I breathe, that this place is old.

As old as a myth twice told.

Now. Do it, Man. Now. Let us free. Take up the knife. Take it. Take it. Take it. Make the cut and free yourself from our torment, and we will bring you life and power such as Man has never known.

The voices shock me with their direct demands, and I see that, indeed, a knife lay in a groove on the stone cover’s surface.  I reach out a tremulous hand. No dust coats the blade, its haft carven with the likeness of a horned, leering face.  This is the tool. This is the key. The voices in me, about me, pummel my calm, and I feel as if I am bending like hot iron beneath the blacksmith’s blows.

My hand hovers just above the dagger.

Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. The voices keen, shrill, like a banshee’s cry; a curse from antiquity that defies time.  And I can still hear them digging, and I can still hear them talking of power and glory and the voices persist, they persist, persist and persist.

I take up the blade. Silence.  I sense Fate waiting. Waiting. The voices wanting. I fight for a breath. I know what they want now. I have always known. Geas brought me here for this task. I raise the blade.

No. Stand, child. Resist. Resist. Look to the light. Choose.

And that voice stops me. I can feel the steel against my throat, feel the tension in my hand, the awful stroke awaiting.

I take a breath. A second. A third. Time hangs like the Christian’s god sagging against his nails and bonds and clarity comes to me. I turn, look again at the carven slab before me and see that it is a great coffin.  A raised tablet, slanted, rests at the far end. It bears an inscription:

Ard Ri Artorius, Rex Brittanum, Last King of the Light.

“Stand, Hold, Resist, and Guard Light from the coming Dark…”

I lower the blade. Instantly, the voices take up their call, but this time I withstand them. I return the blade to its groove.

“To ward against the coming dark,” I whisper aloud, my voice swelling with an eldritch power as I realize why I have come here.  I was not driven by the voices.

I was called by the Guardian.

To take up his watch.

Once the brothers found him and let the darkness loose upon the world.

I sink down beside the casket, place my back against its strange warmth, and wait. I make a gesture with my hand as though pushing back against the power of the voices. Silence. Real. Infinite. I will hold them here, for my lord has given me the task.

I smile grimly, statue-like, as though I meld with the stone against which I rest.

The brothers are still up there, digging…

Mark Nelson
The Poets of Pevana, King's Gambit, Path of the Poet-King, Pevanese Mosaic



Anonymous said...

Your prose is always so compelling, Mark. Thank you for this sneak preview of your next work-in-progress. I am very much looking forward to reading the whole story!

Terri-Lynne said...

ARgh! I read this in advance, I forgot to come back to make comment. Killer story. As always, Mark, your words make me swoon.

Heroines of Fantasy said...

Thank you, ladies! Just glad to make my small contribution to the cool stuff on the blog this month. My to read list keeps getting longer...

Happy Halloween!


Unknown said...

Oh, this is fascinating on so many levels! I'm a big fan of Cumbrian Cthulu, and in a way, I found this quite Lovecraftian - so does that make it 'Cambrian Cthulu?'

I don't think I'm going to look at Welsh archaeology in the same way ever again....