UKArchive ID: 36510mitch
Originally published on May 9, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 08: of the Light-Father: Harold sleeps but into his dreams come the Wiccans to draw his soul to The Hill Where It Never Rains and reveal their plans for Sheild...
Far from the lodges of the Order and the barracks of the Tally-men, the Ferals moved quickly and quietly through the woods. In near total darkness they threaded beneath the dripping boughs and splashed through puddles along sodden paths. Those whose hands could still grasp, carried sacks and knives but they did not speak for that sublime gift of humanity had been stripped from them by the plague that had warped and deformed their bodies and continued to do so.
Despite that loss, the night was alive to their heightened senses and they could scent the smoke of the gathering within their holy place - the Hill Where It Never Rains.
Harold was dimly aware of being in a dream as he ran as one of them, back bowed and legs pumping gazelle-quick along decaying country lanes and his nose filled with the woodland odours of oak, pine, sycamore, fox, badger, rat…
They emerged from the trees to climb styles set into two parallel fences and ascend the slopes of a hill covered with close-cropped grass. Harold touched the grass and was surprised to find it warm and dry. He could hear the goats bleating in nearby fields and the rain steadily falling behind them in the woods but the rain had stopped abruptly at the fences. He wanted to investigate but he was borne along by the tide swarming along the paths threading through gardens of vegetables and herbs. The scent of the animals mixed with that of feverfew, mint, rosemary and lavender and, one by one, the malformed faces around him began to grin from the sheer pleasure and comfort they found in those aromas.
They came at last to a large and ancient house next to a large church that brooded on the brow of the hill. Somehow he knew it was once home to a Catholic priest whose thriving parish consisted of five nearby villages which all now lay in ruins. In the courtyard he found five braziers burning brightly upon large wooden poles while a sixth remained unlit. The six poles were planted at the points of a hexagram made of two overlapping triangles painted in blood-red paint upon the granite flagstones. In front of each brazier stood an ornately-carved mahogany chair and all six were stained a midnight black that reflected no light.
In the centre of the hexagram was a fiercely-burning coal fire that cast both light and warmth across the courtyard so that shadows danced upon the walls around them as he and the other Ferals squatted in respectful silence about the edges of the hexagram, their eyes glittering in the ruddy glows of all six fires.
In those chairs of shadow sat five women who were all staring at him as a dozen Ferals emptied their sacks and reverently laid their tribute – rabbits, wild herbs, flowers and berries – in the hexagram. He noted that the chair set in front of the unlit brazier was empty and felt such a strange and powerful sense of loss well up in his heart that he almost howled in anguish.
The women were all dressed in black long-sleeved smocks and breeches with simple white hemp belts at their waists from which hung knee-length black loin cloths to both front and back. All five held long black staffs in their right hands with a variety of ornaments on top of them. The most striking of the five - a tall woman with hazel eyes and long black hair braided with amber beads - rapped the base of her staff upon the flagstones.
Harold found himself drawn forward until he squatted before her, powerless and unable to resist her will as she studied him. Even the diamonds set in the eyes of the matching ravens of her amulet and staff ornament seemed to be watching him. “I am Mother Fern of the First Degree,” she intoned in a voice that calmed his racing heart. “Servant of Gaia, Wielder of Earth. Thou art one with the Children of Night,” she smiled. “May the Triple Goddess bless you and protect you. Welcome.”
He tried to speak but only a pitiful whine emerged and he felt at his face and recoiled for it was distorted, his mouth no more than a muzzle and his skin covered with coarse fur. He could see that Mother Fern neither pitied nor ridiculed his ruined form but she listened intently to the stream of animal noises that he uttered as he tried to tell her who he was. He fell silent, nervously awaiting either reward or retribution and unsure that this was real or just some terrible nightmare he couldn’t wake up from.
She rested her staff upon her thighs and leant forward to place both hands upon his malformed cheeks and gazed deep into his eyes - as he stared rapturously into hers for she was indeed beautiful. Eventually, she smiled and released him. “There is no deceit in your heart or soul - only a great sadness and a capacity for love rare in a man. Mother Moss chose well.”
She turned to the others and smiled, pointing at the empty chair with the head of her staff. “Mother Moss of the Second Degree was successful,” she declared with the relief and joy evident in her voice. “The Light-Father of the Seventh Degree and a herald of Saturn is here before us even though he sleeps amongst her beloved children - the sad and desolate Scatterlings.”
The other four Mothers broke into broad smiles as they stared at him. A black woman with her greying hair braided with copper and red coral rapped her dog’s-head staff three times upon the flagstones. “Welcome. I am Mother Veneris of the Second Degree, Wielder of Water, Servant of Mars. Praise be to She who formed us that her long torment was ended by your arrival. Alleluia!”
Uncomprehending, he turned at the sound of the third mother, striking the ground with her staff which bore a roaring lion’s head crafted in gold. “Greetings, Light-Father - I am Mother Nightshade of the Fourth Degree, Servant of Leo and Wielder of Fire. Welcome, he who was borne here by the sacrifice of Mother Moss,” she sighed, shaking her head sadly. He saw that she was the most unusual of the five with the blood-red eyes and snow white hair of the albino that contrasted strongly with her black attire.
“May she rest in the arms of the Goddess for ever!” she continued after gathering her strength. “She was the most powerful of us, Light-Father - she possessed a skill at divination that remains beyond our meagre skills. We cannot pierce the shadows around this Order so my heart is full of fear as well as hope at your coming. I bless her memory but our Holy Hexagram remains broken. Who can ever replace her in our souls and hearts?”
The fourth mother struck the ground with her staff which bore a silver crescent Moon as its ornament. “I am Mother Ivy, Servant of the Moon, Bearer of Quintessence and Wielder of Darkness. There is always the one called Shield,” she suggested. He crawled across to her and gazed up at a frail young woman with her long brown hair braided with pearls. She was addressing him more than the others and again he felt at peace. “She has potential, Light-Father. Her heart is strong and her bolts never miss as Mother Moss instructed her in the craft and divined her element to be Air.”
He turned and he felt a cold thrill run down his spine as he saw Shield dressed as the others were yet she was tied to the previously empty chair. The brazier behind her ignited as a staff was laid at her feet with a silver swan as its ornament and the wings outstretched so that the design resembled an Egyptian ankh. She struggled fiercely against her bonds and tried to speak to him, her eyes filled with fear and pleading, but she was gagged by a golden cloth.
The fifth Mother, a stout, large-breasted, ruddy-cheeked woman in her early thirties raised her staff that bore a sun ornament carved in gold that gleamed in the firelight. She brought the base down upon the flagstones twice and turned to him, ignoring the muffled protestations of the teenaged girl. “I am Mother Rosemary, Servant of the Sun, Bearer of Souls and Wielder of the Light of Creation,” she said. “I concur with Mother Ivy – she is a child who bears the mark of the craft yet how shall we comfort her and train her when her heart is bound shut with such grief and horror?”
Mother Veneris laughed as she turned to him. “She needs a true father to comfort her and set her upon the path of natural wisdom and light and thus you are come, praise Diana! She stood up and raised her staff and the sapphire eyes of the dog’s head ornament upon her staff glowed. The Ferals howled in unison as veils of rain crept up the hill to water both grass and gardens and extinguish the flames. She turned to him and a blue light shone in her pupils and the sound of rushing waters filled his keen ears. “Be a father to this child and all the Children of Exodus. Wake up!”
Harold shuddered and sat up, gasping and drenched in sweat. He panicked a little in the pitch-blackness until he activated his phone-screen and shone the light about him. “Ach! What a dream but here I am,” he sighed, rubbing at his face. “Still stuck in a railway-wagon in the middle of nowhere in another reality.” He’d picked the best of the two empty wagons to be his home and had used the last of Saul’s light-stick to ferry furniture over from the offices after cooking them all a meal. He’d listened to the rain thrumming on the tin-clad wagon roof until he’d drifted off to sleep, beginning to detest the never-ending dampness of this world.
He’d reset his watch and estimated the time at around five in the morning but the mattress and bed-sheets that once belonged to Mother Moss were musty and he suspected he would not get back to sleep. Even though it wasn’t cold, the damp had crept into his bones and he suspected a selection of head and body lice were now keeping him company. He wondered if the ache in his joints was due to the vaccine taking effect or some infection taking hold.
“Damn it,” he muttered aloud, scratching and staring up at the roof, barely visible in the feeble glow of his phone-screen. “I have no immune system responses against any of the diseases here – never mind this plague. Even a flu virus here could kill me or I could pass chickenpox or a virus onto these kids – just great,” he sighed. “What was she thinking of by dragging me here?”
He got up and sat at the table then switched on the battery-lamp and shielded his eyes until they were adjusted. He took stock of his tools and belongings laid out on the table: pliers, a soldering iron, meters, probes, screwdrivers – all the paraphernalia you needed to maintain laboratory equipment but what use would they be here?
He even had a pouch full of outdated chips from computers including three Cynet prototypes that belonged to Professor Ramos and Doctor Smith. He should have destroyed them but he’d kept them instead for his art as they were beautiful things - gold-plated with millions of fine wires rising from the centre that, once treated with enzymes, would bond with severed nerve bundles and bridge gaps caused by injury. “Take up thy bed and walk,” he murmured, thinking of the promising field trials where sensation had been restored to the limbs of paraplegic volunteers. “I wish I could have seen these chips put into full scale production. Maybe I could have bought Professor Ramos a drink to celebrate…”
There was a gentle but insistent tap at the door and his heart jumped. He quietly unsheathed his sword before he unlatched the door and slid it open slowly.
It was Shield and she pointed at the sword in his hand. “Good, you’re learning,” she grinned. “Only a fool opens a door at night without a weapon. I saw the light so if you don’t mind, I would like to talk with you a moment, Light-Father.”
“I wish I had a stove in here that you could dry out by,” he said, indicating the second chair. “What’s keeping you awake?”
“We’re used to the constant dampness but many of us long for dry weather as the lice keep us awake and many of us have fungal infections. Sometimes it gets so bad that we would welcome the Tally-men just to stop the itching and the bleeding.”
“We need to get more medical supplies,” Harold said decisively, holding the chips up to the light again. “We’ll wash the clothes and dry them thoroughly then we’ll delouse everyone tomorrow. So if it’s not this infernal weather, what’s keeping you awake?”
“My watch was over but as I lay down to sleep, I felt this cold sensation - a premonition - then I had a dream about this old house and a church on this hill where everything was dry.”
“What?” he exclaimed, turning to stare at her. “A dream with five women in black sitting in these huge black chairs?”
“Yes,” she answered, looking frightened. “I saw this Feral growling at them only I somehow knew it was you. There were six braziers on these black poles behind each chair. I was… frightened for I was tied to one of the chairs and gagged…”
“With a golden cloth,” he gasped. “There is no way two people can dream exactly the same dream at the same time. If Mother Moss could drag me here then those other women could be linking with us using telepathy and getting into our heads.” He described his dream in detail to her. “And now you,” he prompted.
“They said you were of the seventh degree – someone with magical powers…” she ended after describing the details of her dream and what she’d heard the Mothers say.
“I’m definitely not magical for there is no one like them in my world except for this one man Doctor Smith was working with - he may have had powers because all this crazy stuff used to happen when he dreamed: rooms got smashed up; machines would move; computers would blow up. We have psychic frauds and people who may bend the odd spoon but nothing in the same league as Mother Moss and now these other five out there. It seems they might be looking after a pack of Ferals as well,” he added.
“They can’t be,” Shield hissed, baring her teeth. “Ferals aren’t human - they attacked the Keep and took Jacob and Eliza.”
“Maybe they’ve tamed these Ferals but one thing’s for sure – they know I’m here and I have to concede that they have real powers. No wonder they’ve been able to fight the Order for so long. Now,” he said, staring at her. “They said Mother Moss was training you – do the others know?”
Shield removed her fingerless gloves and pointed to the back of her right hand where six brown spots formed a perfect hexagon. “This is what she meant by the mark of the craft. It’s hard to see but the Mothers know. I’ve told the others that I want to be like Mother Moss but please don’t tell them I was learning the craft otherwise they’ll treat me as a Mother when I’m not. I want to learn more about what it is to be a Mother but I’m afraid – the rituals and tests terrify me; those five women terrify me.”
“Do you use the craft to enhance your crossbow?”
“Yes,” she admitted guiltily. “I can make the bolts fly faster and guide them to their target. I rarely miss.”
“I see. One said that Mother Moss identified your element as air,” he said, frowning. “What did she mean by that?”
Shield concentrated and whispered several words in a strange language then air began to circulate until a torus of wind hissed about them at an incredible speed. Then it subsided suddenly, leaving her gasping for breath. “It… feels like my soul is being sucked out when I do that… I’m exhausted.”
He sat in stunned silence for a several seconds. “I’m not surprised you’re drained because that was amazing,” he grinned. “Shield, you’re telekinetic! Can you do anything else?”
“No, Light-Father,” she said miserably. “That was all the craft I possess. It frightened me so much that I refused to learn any more from her but she told me to be patient.” She smiled coyly at him. “Now I know why - your presence gives me the courage and the strength to explore the craft again.”
“I won’t tell the others but you will have to one day,” he urged. “Why the hell did they tie you to the chair in that dream? Was it a metaphor? Were they trying to say that you have to free yourself from these inhibitions and fears or was it something more sinister? Are these Mothers as bad as Schimrian?”
“Never!” she cried, clenching a fist. Birdsong erupted from all around the yard as the unseen sunrise began. “I need to rest – I am tired and scared, Light-Father,” she said timidly, standing up. He stood up quickly to catch her in his arms as she reeled and almost fainted. She buried her face into his neck and sobbed.
He comforted her as best he could until the outburst subsided. “It’s all right,” he soothed, patting her back. “Let it all out. You need to tell me everything that happened to you and your sisters.”
She stopped crying but she clung tightly to him until he was forced to prise her gently away. “Um, listen, that sort of hugging you should be doing with Saul,” he said sternly.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked innocently.
He sat down heavily and looked up at her, shaking his head. “Now I really do feel like a parent,” he sighed.
(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012, 2016
Archived comments for Chapter 08: Where It Never Rains
Gothicman on 12-05-2016
Chapter 08: Where It Never Rains
I tried to get into this long prose from chap 1, but I'm afraid it was too heavy and rich for my limited information receiver! I'm not a great lover of either Sci-fi or traditional formalised religion as cultural forms. But, I must admit to admiring both your highly prolific creative abilities in music and writing, at your not so tender age, and the high level of technical and general knowledge you possess, evident in all your work. Cardiff can count itself lucky having such an intelligent, able and astute councillor! And I mean that sincerely. I'm surprised the prose specialists haven't given feedback on your work, but then they're probably more finicky and exclusive than the poets ever were!
You may be the last man standing unfortunately.
Ohiyo, Trevor! Thank you for bigging up my meagre id. I have another year in Cardiff as a councillor before being wiped out in may 2017 but I will not be devastated and will up my output! The action picks up with a few flashbacks here and there so i hope you can hang in there! Big smiley! mictch