Fire, Mothers, and Meat
The sound of boiling water leaks into Niander’s mind and quickens the fading of his dream. Something to do with a serpent made of black flames. The bubbling is deafening, and the heat is close to unbearable.
“Ahh!” Niander falls off of a large wooden table and onto a mossy stone floor. “What were you trying to do?”
“Wake you up, of course.” Gad says sliding the table back towards the center of the room and away from the roaring hearth.
“By Burning my feet off?” Niander digs his feet into the cool moss.
“It worked didn’t it? Anyhow, now that you’re awake you can tell me what happened with the Death Mother?”
“I think the first layer of skin has been burned off,” Niander says, “what sort of an idiot tries to wake someone up… by…” the realization of who is is talking two sinks in. He stands, disregarding the screaming pain making its way from his feet to his hips, and salutes the Draco Ferian. “Master Lorn, please, I apologies for my disrespectful manner.”
“I burned your feet, I think your reaction was spot on. But to be fair I did wake you up.” Gad says wiping the sweat from his brow. “There’s water in the bucket over there, dunk your feet and tell about the Death Mother.”
“I’m sorry master Lorn, I do not remember what happened.” Niander sits down next to the water bucket. The room he is in is much smaller than it should be to have a hearth so large. It can’t be more than ten by ten feet, less with shelves laden with countless ingredients. The stone walls radiate the heat coming from the roaring fire. “After I saw the monster I sort of… passed out.”
“Hmm, what if I told you a different version of events?” Gad says with an inarticulate hand gesture, “what if I told you you killed the Death Mother? And what if I told you that what you did has not been done in over an eon?”
“I am sorry Master Lorn, I would not be able to believe you.” Niander dips his hands into the water and wipes them across his neck. “The Fell worriers my father and I were having lunch with must have taken her down.”
“I just told you boy, a Death Mother has not been successfully killed in recent history. Yes in the stories of Alister the great, they were killed one after the other. But those are stories. In reality our kind could do very little. That’s why Alister was forced to create the Rings of EverCoal. Without our Little prison we would be at the mercy of the Death Mother and her terrible children.”
“But what of the men and women who travel out of Weeping Valley?” Niander submerges his feet into the icy water of the bucket, the chill moves up all the way to his knees. “How do they stay safe. And the caravans that brought us from the Abbey, too?”
“Simple. Roa Flowers give off a scent that is imperceptible to us, but to the Death Mothers it is a most heinous smell.”
“You mean the flowers the girls darned on their horses?” the chill crawls up to his belly.
“The very same. And am I right in assuming you had them on yours as well?”
“No, I thought they were just being girls and dressing them up.”
“The male mind can sometimes be thick with stupidity.” Gad says to himself. “Roa is the flower Death Mothers strewn over their dead children. If, while hunting, they smell it they can only assume it is the grave of a different family, or a patch of fresh roses. Either way they do not go near it out of respect or superstition.”
“What?” his chest and arms go numb.
“Yes, how would you feel if someone went around stopping on the graves of your ancestors?”
“We don’t keep graves.” His head is sluggish with chill.
“Right, I forgot what our kind thinks of the dead.” Gad sniffs indignantly and wipes his forehead again, “anyhow, that’s how folks do it. Don’t you know the song, Carry a handful of Roa and walk safely through the valley of Daloah. Or something along those lines.”
“Isn’t that just a child’s song.” His eyes are heavy now.
“Yes, but from my experience children seem to be more intelligent than we adults think. You for example have killed a Death Mother, something which I have not been able to figure out how to do with out it actually it being a hallucination from blood loss.” He smiles at his joke. “Come now, I’m sure you can remember.”
His chin falls to his chest. In his dream Niander can see the great snake of black fire slithering at his feet. It crawls up his leg and wraps itself around his body. A sound of absolute evil, a roar a howl and a scream all in one, bursts through the trees that lie ahead. The footfalls of a giant thunder towards Niander. A Death Mother, the size of a mountain, appears over him. The snake hisses and spits, it tightens around Niander.
The Death Mother Rears her head and bellows the sound of unavoidable death. It shatters the ground with it, it threatens to rip the sky with it, it sends a cold chill through Niander. The vibration suffocates him, he opens his mouth to yell but the snake lunges and forces itself into the safety of his body.
He gags and doubles over, he grabs at it but his grip isn’t strong enough. Seven feet of snake disappear into him. He looks up and meets the gaze of the Death Mother. Her monstrous mouth fills his entire field of vision. His eyes go black and hisses at her. She opens her mouth to make the evil sound again and he launches himself in.
The dream changes. He is lying face up in tall grass. A sliver of sun is poking through a lonely cloud. The sweet smell of nectar and clear water lift him onto his feet, the meadow is beautiful, flowers of gold and cerulean sway with the wind. He is at the very edge of a clearing, the trees at his back groan as another gust of wind sweeps past. From where he stands he can see a glowing figure in the center of the tall grass. He can hear a tortured lament carried by the wind, it is the song of a Death Mother.
With only the smallest amount of hesitation he makes his way towards her. When he is only yards from her the lament stops and she turns towards him. In her arms she holds three little girls, no more than eight years old. One has her throat slit, one is badly beaten, the other dirty with skinned hands and knees.
Niander walks closer, his heart is thumping in his throat. “What happened?” he chokes out.
“They did this.” The Death Mother says with a pent up rage ready to burst. “They took my children.”
A dark cloud build in the sky, lighting arc deep inside. Images of figures covered in black fire run in and out of sight. One of them carries a child, two others hold down a woman and tear her clothes off. “They came into our convent, they attacked us and the children. They made them watch as my sisters and I were violated, ripped and slain. Some of the girls,” she points to the young one with her throat slit, “cried so hard and so long that they could not take it. They killed themselves. Others were forced to laugh at us while the men did their evil. If they didn’t they would be beaten to death.” She touches the face of the disfigured girl. “And the ones left met the same fate as my sisters and I.”
The youngest, in her dirty rags, stands and places herself between Niander and her mother like a protective barrier. Niander looks away from them and back at the cloud. Its is a shapeless mass again, but with every bolt of lightning a small cry can be heard.
“Who are these men?” he asks.
“They called themselves the Dark Sundering, I do not know what they are now. They leave a scorched raven on a wall or a door when their deeds are done. They belonged to your people, a vampire clan who lived long ago. They had split from the teaching of your Baktu, and instead took the orders of the original traitor, Ha’vael the Bloodied.”
“Is that why you attack us, because we are descendants of these evil men?”
“We know not who their descendants are, but the followers of Baktu did nothing to stop them. In our eyes that is just as evil.”
“Mother,” the youngest one whispers, “look at his hands.”
Niander looks down to see his hands stained with thick purple blood. The Death Mother holds her children tighter, “you killed my sister!”
“Yes.” He did not plan on telling the truth, but it found its way out.
“You are no better than them!”
“Why shouldn’t I kill you?”
“Why?” he asks himself as much as her. “I don’t know.”
“Mother,” the young one moves towards Niander, “he can help.” She looks at him curiously. “Look closer, into his eyes.”
The Death Mother does and sign in understanding. “They look like yours.”
“Like mine.” The little one says. “I will give him a gift, if he will take it.”
“I will.” Niander’s mind races, why is he answering this way. He should be fighting, running away, something. But all he can manage is to agree. He will die here.
“Look at me.” The little one says. Niander looks up and sees himself in her black orbs. “Do you want to remember?”
“Yes,” Niander says. It takes his some time to realize he is back in Gad’s dungeon room. The once oppressive heat is now soothing against his icy skin. He is lying face up on the stone floor, he must have slid off the chair during the hallucination.
“Impressive.” Gad says holding out a hand to him. With surprising strength, gad lifts him up to his feet. “You went deep into the Ruhmani there. Not many can do that and keep their sanity.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Not surprising. Most think it’s an old wives tale, but it is older than that. It is the beginning and the end, it is where Feruh is born and where we all go when we die.”
“No, that is fiction. Ruhmani is no place, it is all things and none. It is the feeling of love between a child and its family. It is the space between you and I. It is what stars are made of. It is our father and mother. It is memory and future. It is our greatest power and our one true weakness.” Gad raises his hands as if holding up a great power, “is this making any sense?”
“Good, because I don’t really know what it is either.” He drops his hands and motions for Niander to follow.
“If I don’t know what the Ruhmani is, and it is not a place. How did I visit it?”
“How am I supposed to know… wait I do know this.” He scratches his head with one hand and lays the other on a shelf, “no thats a recipe for Alowink Drought.” He pushes the shelf open to reveal a large study. The sun shines brightly through floor to ceiling windows, in the spaces between the windows the walls are laden with books. The floor space is a complex maze of trinkets and books stacked six feet tall. A large wooden desk, half of which is covered in scrolls, sits comfortably in the middle of the room.
“He’s awake?” the blond boy named Galel pokes his head out from behind a teetering stack of books, “it’s been a whole day.”
“Yes, and he even went into Ruhmani,” Gad says.
“Didn’t I tell you no one knows what it is?” he pokes Niander in the ribs playfully. “I could tell Lord lanker and it would mean nothing to him. Ryker might have heard of it but he won’t believe you visited.”
“What is he talking about?” Galel says handing Niander a wrapped parcel.
Niander opens it to find a honey roll with thin cuts of Migder stake. “Thanks, and I have no idea. Which seems to be the point.” He takes a bite and nearly falls over from the savoriness. “Who made this?”
“My dad. He owns the Little Brisket Butchery in the Lowers.”
“Really?” Niander takes another, larger bite. Choking it down he says, “this is fantastic.”
“I’ll let him know you liked it.” Galel smiles and hands him a goblet of wine.
“I see you two have met. Niander this is Galel, Galel this is Niander,” Gad says while moving things off of his desk.
“We’ve already met.” Niander says.
“At the ceremony.” Galel adds.
“”Really? Oh, thats right, you two are the ones I have to teach, so sorry my mind flutters away from me sometimes.” Gad clears away the surface of the desk and opens a drawer. The table top splits in half and reveals a staircase. “In which case, follow me.”