A kind of magic
That night a dense bluish fog came low over the village. The calls of hounds barking filled the silence as the moon rode high on the crest and half full overhead as the village slept all, all but one.
Some form of morbid curiosity and fascination drew her to the empty mucky bog that would be the stranger’s grave. As proclaimed, no markings but a heavy stone pressed down on the grave. The grave that lay far from town.
What she was going to do not even she knew herself but the druidess felt some unearthly pull to the spot. Maybe a morbid trophy would belay her curiosity maybe not.
She approached the grave with trepidation, as if it were the steps to a grand and foreboding house. With no torch whatsoever and the necessity arising. The young girl tutting pulled her sleeve back revealing a gold half torc around her wrist, with which she gave three quick taps.
On the third tap the torque began to give off an eerie glow almost like a will-o-the-whisp. A slightly greenish hue that gave her all the light she needed to see the grave clearly.
“I have to know” She told herself “I just need to see the body for a moment; I can’t let this opportunity pass me by.”
Her curiosity had betrayed her as she was not alone. Too late she noticed the noise, a slight drawn out scratching noise and veiled breathing sniffing sounds and a low growl or whine or whistle.
“Who is that?” She called out but no one answered.
The scratching sounds got louder and the breathing deeper and faster as she approached the grave. Her footfalls sinking into the loose wet earth of the bog.
“I warn you, I have a weapon!” The druidess swallowed her fear as she approached fumbling her small hands over the clasps. Moving her robes awkwardly to reach the handle of the strange sword she had found herself the owner of.
The druidess drew closer to the noise. Her and on the hilt of the sword and her other on the oddly designed scabbard but she did not draw the blade as she feared to do so. The blade it seemed to her analysis had some magical properties but to the nature of which she had hitherto not discerned. Drawing it in anger could have unforeseen consequences.
“I have use of magic” She croaked, her voice breaking as she said it, casting the light from her torque over the grave. A dark small dark figure hunched over the grave was digging in the loose earth around the stone.
The druidess forgot to breath, she tensed her cheeks as she tried to swallow the lump of fear in her throat. Having no choice but to pass the light of her torc over the squat stygian figure scrabbling in the muck.
To her relief, the light revealed little more than a shaggy mutt. A dog of an indeterminate breed was digging and scratching at the freshly laid grave of the stranger from a by gone age.
“Shoo!” she cried. Feelings of anger and relief washing over her. Anger more at herself for being scared of something so pathetic looking.
She assumed the beast was just after the freshly planted dead flesh as a not so easy meal beneath the heavy stone.
“Away with you!” She swiped her hand in the air but the dog took no notice, continuing to paw and scratch at the soft earth.
Birog looked around her feet and found a small piece of sandstone and hocked it at the beast landing a few feet away from it. The creature lifted its head to growl and bear its teeth briefly before skulking away into the mist again.
“Damned beast, what were you doing here?” She caught her breath and straightened her hair and clothes. She took a moment to swallow the spittle built up in her mouth before turning back to the grave. She sighed “What am I doing here?”
Without the threat of the dog she could get closer and inspect the stone that lay over the grave. It was a hulking slab of sandstone that was of the type they used to build the foundations of their larger roundhouses on. It surely took at least four or five good men to move it and place it on the grave.
She kneeled over the stone and pulling her sleeve back she ran her hand along the service to find an anchor point.
“There we go.” The torc on her wrist began to resonate and vibrate, emitting a slight and awful whistling sound. The stone itself began to vibrate and shake. The earth around it shifting and moving in waves as if a wind were blowing it in all directions.
“I should have enough leverage.” She held her breath and strained as the stone levitated only about an inch or two off the ground. The girl still bending began to walk it over a few feet to the right before dropping it again with a heavy whumping sound splattering her boots with muck.
“Oh well that’s just disgusting.” She began to dust herself off hissing at herself “I suppose I could have dropped it on my foot, that would have been humiliating.” She sighed.
Lost in her folly and minor accomplishment she was shaken out of it by another breathing noise behind her. She turned, her hand reaching for the hilt of the sword she feared draw.
It was the dog again but this time it sat placidly panting with something in its mouth. It sat like that for a moment, long enough to let the Druidess know it meant no harm, its eyes round and moist now. The shaggy beast opened its jaws and dropped the object onto the ground with a clanking clattering noise. The noise was needlessly loud and caused her buttocks to tighten uncomfortably. She looked around to make sure there were no other voyeurs on her clandestine macabre night time activities.
Birog scanned the horizon and after she was sure they were alone the druidess approached the mutt. Cautiously bending to pick up whatever it was the creature dropped.
She took hold of what felt like something metal attached to wood and subsequently lifted it up to inspect it under the light of her glowing torque.
“What a curious thing” She regarded the strange object and its weight with much the same curiosity she regarded the dead man. “It’s some kind of trowel is it?” She asked the dog. “Why am I talking to a dog?” She sighed.
The object was some kind of shovel shaped piece of metal. Oddly curved with points at either end and was vaguely phallic and indelibly sharp at points and savagely blunted at others. She held it unsure of what to use it for, looking over at the dog with a curious expression, one of incredulity and slight irritation. She looked over at the grave and back at the dog who sat now with its tongue hanging out of its mouth panting playfully.
“You can’t expect me to- “She looked back at the grave “With this?”
The dog said nothing but wagged its tail furiously and then barked in affirmation.
“Ok ok, goddess preserve me, and to think I was worried about getting muck on my boots.”
Reluctantly she sunk the large shovel shaped javelin head into the earth. With great effort she started to heave soft freshly laid earth and black sticky muck from the grave.
Luckily they hadn’t deigned to bury him terribly deep as he was entombed vertically upside down. They’d hoped through their silly superstitions that if he had indeed awoken anew from his slumber. He would then feel the stone at his feet and not know which way was up and would in fact dig deeper into the ground thinking it lead to freedom. Instead digging forever until reaching the underworld.
Assuming he found his head. Wouldn’t want to go anywhere without that.
She found his head first, buried around his feet. The large cleanly shaven head looked like it had been cut from limestone, more like a piece of a statue sleeping than a severed head. A terrible pained but dignified expression on its face.
Still it took a lot longer than she thought it would before the entire body was lying exposed on the ground in front of her. It suddenly struck her she had no idea what she was going to do with it. There was no possible way she could inspect it here without suffering the lack of light and possibility of discovery. She stood over it for a moment, marveling at its scale and aspect in the dim light of the moon and the morbid glow of her torque.
Wondering how imposing it would look as a skeleton standing upright in her lab, what an interesting talking piece that would make for. ‘If only it was complete’ she thought staring at the scorched stub of an arm that remained. Comparing it to his other long and thick limbs bulging with veins and rough cut muscles, now lying limp and cold.
“These markings? How curious” She whispered. She removed one of her gloves and gingerly put a hand out to touch them. She suddenly felt an odd cold feeling from the torque around her wrist. The dog barked causing her to yank her hand away, feeling something like a static shock nipping at her fingers.
She looked at him and scowled “You gave me a fright, what did you do that for?”
The dog it seemed had its own ideas of what to do with the two pieces of the dead man. The mutt barked and rushed over excitedly biting the large nose of the severed head and running off with it.
The druidess completely taken aback by this fell flat on her bottom into the bog. “Hey wait you can’t!” She cursed under her breath “Goddess curse you!” She whistled for her horse and lumbered the corpses arm over her shoulder lifting the huge dead weight. She traced along its back looking for a good anchor point and found the best leverage at the base of the spine so she could stand it up.
The horse sidled up breathing heavily and visibly in the cool damp night.
She levered the naked body over the saddle and covered it loosely with a horse blanket.
Looking out at the village she saw no one coming, no crowd of villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks. Just that strange almost blue stolid mist, a slight smell of sea spray and the stalwart half-moon. The sound of the barking of that damn dog getting further away with the most important part, well one of them.
She bounced up and onto the horse and prepared to give chase. Following the trail of the loud barking echoing over the still and quiet hills leading further into a valley of standing stones.
In the light of the day the standing stones were just monuments to a time past. Simple stone monoliths the Firbolg must have been able to move as if weightless. But now they stood firm and unmoving unable even for the Tuatha de’ to put enough hands around or underneath to move it an inch. Nor would a druid want to use her magic to disturb them, no telling what old world curses were attached to them. At night they were as giant’s tombstones, standing silent and ghostly. Looming over the valley telling all that would see them that they would be there still long after all was dead.
The barks of the infernal beast echoed and bounced off the resonate stone. She followed it cautiously with the heavy body keeping her horse from rearing up.
The valley opened up a little and the barks began to sound enclosed like they’d fallen down a well and were getting deeper and deeper into the earth. She shone her light and it fell upon a formation of stones that looked like a grave mound or as the locals called them ‘portal stones’ or cairns. Two large stones supporting a flat stone megalith on top forming an alcove at the entrance to a cave mound covered in grass and moss.
She dismounted her horse and raising her glowing torque over her head she approached the mouth of the cave. She a breeze whistled past her ears which chilled her to the bone and made her muddy sodden clothes feel like heavy cold plate against her skin.
The barking continued further on in the cave and had taken on an almost mocking tone, she grimaced and entered.
Inside the cave the air pressure was different, the cold cloying wind and damp were replaced by a warmth from the stone. A light peaked around a corner and then the dogs barking echoed all around her and then stopped.
The druidess turned off her light and crept closer to the light keeping tight against the dry cave walls. She felt them with her hands and not all the indentations felt natural, turning her torque light on again she inspected the walls. There were strange symbols and markings she didn’t recognize. Her natural inclination were to assume they were left by the Firbolg but she herself had seen some of their writing and symbols in Dun Bresse. Remnants from before the war.
This was nothing the likes of which she had seen before, it could very well have been century’s older, dating back to the people of Nemed themselves.
The markings seemed to depict a horned man sitting cross legged. Then there were other creatures that resembled fish but seemed to walk on two legs or one leg and one arm.
The druidess stiffened at the sound of a voice deeper in the cave.
“Ah you’re a good old boy” The voice whispered. “Not as old as me mind” The voice chuckled.
She descended further into the cave and peered around the cave wall. There was a darkened figure sat at a campfire patting the strange dog on the head absent mindedly as he poked the fire with a blackened branch.
“What have ya got there” The man said as he squinted in the low light at the head in the dog’s mouth. He tutted and said “Have ya been digging up them graves again, ah that’s a bad dog.” He took the head off of him, shocked at first by the weight of the great head, then remarking on the features “Oh it’s not this fella again is it? I told ya not to be getting yourself mixed up in that business anymore, this one’ll be the end ya for certain” He remarked sighing as if his words meant nothing. “Ya should have left him there this time, can’t tell you nothing can I young lad?” The dog just whined and then spotting Birog barked loudly.
The voice spoke up but was warm and welcoming “Ah you can come out; the young lad told me all about it now.”
Birog paused for a moment fingering the cave wall in her indecision.
“There’s no use standing there, come by the fire so I can get a good look at ya now” The man said.
The druidess gingerly skulked out of the darkness and as she got closer she could see the man more clearly by the light of the fire. His face was soft but very lined, he was hobbled and bent over and looked extremely old with a beard so long he had to tie it over his head.
“Who told you?” She asked.
“The dog, he’s only a sprite well-” He looked at the dog “One thousand years old, maybe two, I can’t remember.” He shook his head “Your memory starts to go after your three thousandth birthday”.
“Three thousand years old, of course.” Birog let that one go she just narrowed her eyes and perched herself uncomfortably on a log resting perpendicular to the fire pit. In her profession she was used to encountering an eccentric or two.
“Well?” The old man smirked.
“Have ya got the rest of him or not?”
“Oh yes, well”
“Well he’s not getting any younger or fresher is he?”
“Oh all right, I’ll just-“
Birog went back to her horse and with some difficulty managed to coax the beast into entering the otherworldly cave. There was no other way, she wasn’t about to drag the hulking body all the way down into the cave. The beast fought her not wanting to enter the ancient place for whatever reason. Perhaps it didn’t like the smell or the enclosed spaces.
Either way she managed to get it down there and with great difficulty lower the body of the large man onto the floor of the cave. The floor was partially covered by furs, some of which hung on the walls. Otherwise the cave was sparse of furnishings and personal items although it did give off an aura of an abode in such a way that it felt intrusive to be there.
She could have used her torque to take the body down but the druidess feared using magic around strangers. There’s no telling what their reaction might be. Some in these parts both coveted and feared magic. They were just as likely to kill her for the torque despite not knowing its use. Or worse capture and subject her to a lifetime of magically lancing boils, curing impotency and hair loss.
She tried her best to lower him slowly but he was much larger than and heavier than she had initially calculated. As soon as his weight shifted from the horse, the body fell like a sack potatoes on the hard cave floor.
The old man snickered “Well he can’t get anymore dead.”
“He is dead then?” She asked, with a slight tone of disappointment in her voice.
“Well he’s ‘undead’ ya might say but we’ll know in a minute whether he’s planning on staying that way.”
The druidess threw on a cloak of aloof clinical interest folding her arms. “Imagine I believe you, about anything, what could have made him that way?”
The old man pursed his lips up to his bulbous red nose quizzically “A witch curse maybe, who can say? You sit yerself down and I’ll get my needle and thread.” With that the old man shuffled off to a corner where a chest lay and he bent painfully. All his joints creaking as he rummaged around for a needle and some thread.
While he was looking away she stole some time to inspect the naked dead man as he lay lifeless on the hide covered earthen floor of the cave.
The fire light painted a more vivid picture than her first inspection. His body although strong and lean was a roadmap of pain, scars, some old, some looked almost recent. They told a long history of pain and suffering that stretched back into infancy. But only the latest additions around his head and missing arms seemed to spark her curiosity. As they seemed almost to pulsate with some esoteric magic of which she’d never encountered before. In fact she’d hesitate to call it magic at all in its current inert state, only potential.
The dog whined next to her with the head in its mouth, she took and placed it down atop the downed giant’s shoulders. Completed it the story was one of pain and misery a few centuries in the making. His body twisted and broken by fate.
The last of his kind a sad poor excuse for a thing, pale and monstrous by the light of the fire. Teeth and claw marks, spear tips, sword, slashes and axe gouges. But surely if he lived and if the old washer woman on the road was to be believed then these wounds must have occurred before his curse, if there was such a thing.
The druidess stole herself for a moment. She had to laugh uncomfortably behind her hand for a part of her in fact believed that the man could be reanimated just by putting his head back in place. She knew this was impossible, even the great Dian Cecht, healer god of the Tuatha De’ could do next to nothing with a headless body. A man that could heal any wound, could not revive a decapitated man, there was no one who could.
“You think it impossible?” The old man said holding a small box in his hands. “But this one is neither living nor dead, his fate lies outside that of this world.”
The old man tutted and set the sewing kit down next to the dead man.
“All have a destiny, a place and time at which they must die, all but this one,
-he has no such luck.”