Saturday, November 30, 2013

Satyrday: a Fable. Sunday, parts 11 & 12

     Derin reached the edge of forest and entered the clearing. No one, not even the badger, was there. He looked to the sky but it was grey and empty. The raven had disappeared from view. The boy  thought about the past twelve hours, wondering what had brought him to this point. He felt he had the beginning pieces of a puzzle, only the vaguest outline, and it nagged him as a splinter does when it slips more deeply into a finger.
     He gathered his few belongings and put them in his knapsack. His woolen blanket. The carved stone, his talisman; his leather boots. He pulled the knife out of its deerskin sheath and ran his thumb along the finely edged bone of the blade, wondering if he would use it in ways he never had before. He picked up the two gourds he had played with as a child, the rattles Matthew had made for him, and he smiled as he let them drop. They would be of no use to him where he was going.
     Where was he going? He knew as much about the meadowlands as anyone who lived there, but only recently had he given any thought to what might lie beyond. Beyond lay the Outer Lands. From what Matthew had told him, they were nothing like this. But had the satyr ever been there himself?
     He pushed the last of his shirts into the knapsack and took off for Matthew's granite ledge. When he arrived, the small clearing was empty, though the smell of goat hung in the air. Where was he? Above the boy, the day seemed a well-worn piece of cloth he could put his finger through. The light was furred almost, feathered.
     He though of Deirdre headed out over that dismal landscape, tried to imagine it for himself. There were mountains, he knew, and a long stretch or arid waste, but these were things which had only been described to him, and they were as unclear in his mind as the owl was. Tell me that again after you've seen him, Deirdre had said. He remembered the wind of the previous evening, how it had surrounded him, rushing toward the center of the meadow from the periphery of trees, how it had left him in total darkness, blinded. He sat there, waiting for his friend, as the day seeped away entirely, and he imagined, his skin tingling, the faraway sound of a whirlwind churning across the forest, sweeping birds and animals, trees and bushes, into its hollow fist.

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     Matthew plunged through the forest wildly. His headache was gone, and this impetuous rush made him forget the raven, the boy, the journey before him. He was agile, graceful, dodging branches which loomed suddenly out of the air, threatening to brain him. Leaves whirled by, a tunnel of green. He loved to run like this, unfettered, with no destination, through the obstacle course altered by each change of direction. He was used to surprising the animals of the woodlands, but today he saw no other creature, not even a squirrel or bird.
     He stopped, exhausted, and leaned heavily against a hickory, rubbing his back on the coarse bark. Sweat streamed down the sides of his face. He lowered himself onto the expanse of moss at the hickory's base, flung his fleeced legs in front of him, and closed his eyes. The only sound he heard was his own panting. There was no wind, no chatter, no song. He felt the muscles in his neck tense; the silence was odd indeed.
     Suddenly sure he was being watched, he drew his legs back under him and crouched, one hand on the hickory for balance. He looked up into the overhanging branches, searching the receding trunks for a movement, a shadow, but he could see nothing.
     Everything had changed. He took a deep breath. The sweet fragrance he had reveled in the previous evening was missing; the air itself was stale. Even the moss below him seemed rougher, its sheen tarnished. If the raven were telling the truth, there would be no escape from this degeneration. All the running in the world would only bring him full circle, back to this realization.
     Who was this feathered braggadocio, wanting to rule the world? Matthew ruled the meadowlands—everyone knew that. The thought of its decline filled him with fury. But the owl was strong enough, perverse enough to kidnap the moon. He began walking back toward the granite overhang. Though he knew he had no choice, the idea of the journey he was about to undertake, necessary as it might be, angered him. He hated responsibility.
     It had been fourteen years since the hooded creature had forced the baby upon him, a burden he neither wanted nor graciously accepted. He'd known nothing of infants, their squalls of rage, their sudden fevers, and he'd resented the attention the little creature needed. Fascinated by its grasping hands, its toes, its hairless skin with a smell like sun ind windblown water, he'd still felt cramped, walled in by its relentless demands.
     He'd been given no choice—either abandon the infant to a certain death, or attend to him the best he could. Derin had thrived, had grown as tall as Matthew, and sullen. Now, as the stranger foretold, a messenger had arrived from the Outer Lands, calling the boy home.
     He walked until he reached the Rock, a protrusion of granite and shale, its natural steps leading to a pinnacle which cleared the highest branches of the forest. He scrambled up the Rock's side until he stood at the top. The wind was strong there, and he faced it, a lone figure brooding over the trees. If someone had seen him, they might have mistaken him for a natural outcropping of the Rock itself.
     Matthew stood until the wind pulled water from his eyes. The sky overhead was dense and wooly, like the backs of sheep in winter, and clouds could could be seen moving toward the west, unrolling in a single thick sheet from horizon  to horizon as the air darkened. He remembered the stormy night he'd been summoned by a great blue heron from the swamp, who had guided him back to the banks of the Swollen River where the cloaked stranger had handed him the baby. He remembered Derin's first illness as he lay, bundled in furs by the fire, the flames throwing orange wraiths against the treetrunks. He thought of how he'd wished the baby would die so he'd be freed of its hold over him, and then his relief, a surprise, when the fever broke. The memories flooding him were all of Derin's anger; the time he'd broken through the thin ice on the pond; the day he'd fallen from the elm.
     The years had gone swiftly, running into one another like creeks in a spring thaw, until they roared along, a river which was today. The cold wind whipped from him any last vestige of illusion. The time has come for Derin to leave.
     It begun to rain, a fine rain which slanted from the east and struck his chest and legs like thousands of needles. Meager and cold as it was, he took it as a sign to go. He had hoped for something more particular, but he was not in a position to quibble. In leaps and bounds he reached the forest floor and headed for the overhang.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Satyrday: a Fable. Sunday, parts 9 & 10

     By the time light first reached Deadwood Forest, the clearing was empty except for two ravens left to stand guard. The moon, though exhausted, was unable to sleep. The gag bit into her mouth and the effort of breathing filled her chest with pain. In the darkest hours of the night, after the animals had left, she had strained against the gag, pulling as much air as possible through it to keep her fire from going out She needed light to see by; she was looking for an evenue of escape. But try as she might, she couldn't find the slightest weak spot in the oaken fortress.
     She wondered where the owl had gone, would have considered asking one of the ravens if she had been able to talk. The forest lay below her and stretched in all directions as far as she could see. There was no sign of life, no bird song, no rustle in the underbrush, nothing but the two ravens who sat opposite her like stone totems. But most astonishing to her was the total absence of the color green. In the dark, she hadn't been able to distinguish much except the clearing itself. Now, in the milky light of what seemed a very unpromising dawn, she could see beyond the clearing, but there was nothing to see. The few leaves on the bushes were brown and dry, and tree after tree lifted bare lifeless branches. There was no water anywhere.
     Season after season, year after year, the moon had watched the world below her change from spring to summer with its vibrant greens, to the fireworks of autumn and winter's bare sticks. But here in the Deadwood Forest, the moon had the strange sensation that time has stopped. This was not a winter forest, holding deep in its sap the promise of another spring. If the trees here grew at all, they simply grew taller and more threatening, their branches spidering across a landscape like sudden jolt to clear ice.
     This thread of thought alarmed her. If there was no time, if it were fractured, she might never grow older, trapped in her cage. Things would always stay the way they were, and she would never be free.
     As she hung there, she waited impatiently for her sister, the sun, to appear. The sun could burn into this forest, remove the shadows. If need be, the sun could destroy this whole place with a well-aimed ray. What was this but a graveyard of trees and bushes?
     The moon closed her eyes and began to wish. In her mind, she saw a huge conflagration, the flame reaching over the treetops, consuming them, their embers falling away, leaving an imprint on the air. She saw black billows of smoke obliterate the sky. She saw the spirits of birds and small animals ascend to heaven. And then, she saw herself, red-hot, glowing furiously, before she, too, crumbled into ashes and joined the general destruction on the forest floor. Well, she thought, if that is what it will take to be free, so be it.
     But as she waited for what seemed hours and hours, the sun did not appear. All was suffused with the same deadly pallor. Great round tears rolled down her face and soaked her gag so that the wretched linen began to cut even more deeply into the corners of her mouth. There seemed no end to this and no beginning. What light there was was simply light, nothing more, a poor separation of the great blanks known as day and night.
     Opposite her the two ravens sat, unblinking, staring at her with cold and lifeless eyes. There was no wind.

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     Derin glanced at Matthew, who stared upwards at the bird as though he saw a ghost. It sat on the branch, its throat and breast covered with short black feathers, its beard giving it the appearance of great age and strength.
     "Corvus corax!" sad Matthew with awe. "I haven't seen one of you for years."
     "Corvus corax?" Derin said.
     "My formal name," the bird said. "I'm a raven."
     "But you don't live in the meadowlands, do you?"
     "Does a peanut have whiskers?" the raven said, "No, not for many years. And what are you, if I may be so bold?"
     "He's a boy," the satyr said quickly.
     "Boy. A boy," the raven said, intrigued. "A new species to add to my life-list. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. I was wondering what happened to the fleece on your shanks and where you'd misplaced your hooves. Never seen anything like you." Derin blushed. "I'm familiar with satyrs, of course, this one in particular," the raven continued. "No shock of recognition in that horned head of yours? Your name is—don't tell me—Martin, Mason.  .  .  ."
     "Matthew," the satyr said.
     "Matthew. How absentminded of me." The raven pecked under a wing, a self-conscious gesture that made him angry.
     "I'm supposed to know you?" he asked.
     "I'm hurt you don't remember. I used to ride your shoulder when I was a fledgling. You were decidedly rambunctious, years ago."
     "You're.  .  .  ."
     "Deirdre," the raven said. "Daughter of Orak and Oda."
     "Of course," the satyr said. "That uppity little.  .  .  ."
     "Pardon me," Deirdre said. "I think the word is 'precocious.' "
     "Wait a minute," Derin said. "What's going on?"
     "I used to live here, you see," the raven said. "I was kidnapped from this place a long time ago. One night I was awakened from sleep by a noise like rushing water. I was huddled with my parents on the limb of a beech, and they slept on while the noise grew louder. I hadn't any idea what it was. I looked and saw a wall of darkness moving through the trees, and it seemed a waterfall but it was only wind. It picked up dirt and branches as it came until it was a landslide. My parents awoke, cawing, and we tried to fly, but it caught us and in that maelstrom were other animals, rabbits, and foxes, and all manner of birds. We rose in a black funnel. Over and over I tumbled until I lost my senses. When I came to, I was what seemed hundreds of miles west of here, in a place called the Deadwood Forest."
     "It was before he was born," Matthew said.
     "How old is the boy?"
     "I'm fourteen," Derrin butted in.
     "Is that right?" the raven said. "Could it have been that long ago?"
     "What's past is past," the satyr said. "I'd forgotten."
     "There are some things one doesn't forget," Deirdre said heatedly. "There are times which live on in the memory with the vividness of dream so that life becomes a simultaneity of past and present. Both my parents died that night. I saw them drop through the whirlwind's center, plummet to the ground. I remember every detail as if it were yesterday. I vowed then to avenge their deaths; I have dedicated my life to that."
     The satyr stared into the woodlands, as though looking for a particular tree, as though he could fasten his life there and keep it earthbound. "It was a terrible night," he said. "Squirrels were taken, and ferrets. Foxes were thrown in the air like so many leaves. The wind stole every living raven from the meadowlands. The only ones left were dead or dying. I thought I'd seen the very last of them. In the morning the ground was covered with bodies. The water in the brook ran blood red."
     "But why go on in grisly detail?" the raven asked brightly. "There;s something of more immediate importance." She paused, and her red eyes glittered. "The moon has been stolen from the sky."
     Matthew stared at the bird in stunned disbelief. "You're crazy.  .  .  ."
     "The Deadwood Forest is ruled by a great horned owl," she said, "Fourteen years ago he sent the wind which brought us west. Last night he abducted the moon. Before I flew here, I went to the great sea cliffs where I was born, the cliffs still farther to the east. The ocean is still as a dead rat's teeth, and the beach is littered with fish. The tides have ceased, and the vast hood of the sky is blank as snow."
     "You're lying," Matthew said. "These things can't happen. The tides never stop."
     "A week ago I would have said the moon could not be purloined from the sky," the raven said. She was annoyed, her tone haughty. "But last night we were sent with a net. It was easier than you'd imagine."
     "You helped steal the moon?" Derin asked. "You were there?"
     "Of course I was there," she snapped. "What was I supposed to do? Sometimes one has no choice. I've lived in the Deadwood Forest nearlt all my life."
     "You might have done something," Derin said. "You could have stopped the owl."
     "Tell me that again after you've seen him," Deirdre said. A shiver shook her from the point of her sharp beak to the elegant wedge of her tailfeathers. " "He's cold and analytic, diabolical, preternatural. He means to rule the night. For years he's held the Outer Lands in his thrall. Now he's stretching his talons still further. But enough of this. I didn't come all these miles for the purpose of narrative exposition."
     "You have come very far," Matthew said. "At least a week's journey." He reached up and covered his eyes with his hands, as if he were waking from sleep. In his mind, he stood in last night's forest as the pool of darkness gathered around his hooves.
     "By air, only six hours," the ravel said dryly. "It is a hefty flight. Yes. I will take credit for that. Now pay attention." The satyr bristled at her order. "Years ago," Deirdre said, "when I was little—mind you, I'm not prone to such emotional declarations—I admired you above all other creatures, excepting my parents. Because of those memories I've come here today. You've got to help. You're the only one I can think of. You've got to help me rescue the moon. You do understand how serious this is?"
     "Of course," Matthew said, angry. He could feel the blood rising in his face. "You hot—mouthed condescending little.  .  .  ." But Deirdre cut him off.
     "Good," she said. "I knew you would. Now I've got to get back. I'm afraid they'll notice I'm missing. The moon hangs incarcerated in a tree in the middle of the Deadwood Forest. I'll be expecting you." Without another word, she ascended into the air and vaulted like a meteor toward the west.
     "How do you like that?" Matthew asked. "The nerve of that bird. Not so much as a by-your-leave. And last night I thought we were in for a heavy rain."

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