** This story has lines from Edgar Allan Poe's poem Dream-Land, my favorite poem, and you can see by now that EAP is one of my favorite authors as this is the second story that has a poem of his in it. I hope you enjoy it in all of its oddness.**
By a route obscure and lonely
Haunted by ill angels only
Where an Eidolon named Night
On a black throne reigns upright
“Tha’s the thing about this village,” Old Nula intoned, “darkness is evil.” She had her stand near packed up by then. Lime and ice had tinged the road lime like the color of her rags, so she could wander without danger. She mumbled to herself whenever a newcomer came to town, in her old batty way. No one paid her any mind.
A man had arrived. Nula could tell the ilk of people when they prowled through the gates. An unmistakable bird call would sound each time; sparrow for lady, raven for man. As soon as the birds called, Nula listened. It wouldn’t do to forsake nature’s wisdom, she’d decided long ago. There had been a flock of ravens earlier in the wee hours and sure enough, he was a he.
Nula didn’t exist to the other villagers. They went about their own lives, wrapped in the shadowy shrouds of disillusion and blind to the actions of people who were free. Nula was one such person. Nature, to her, left her signs, clues, things that one could only find if they were unbound from self-absorption. That morning, though, when the newcomer came, his eyes weren’t glossed in uncaring. They weren’t blind, no, they were open.
He had walked right up to her, letting his breath fall unequivocally onto the frosted grass. Yet Old Nula was in a fright, thinking that the man was a ghost. He had been sent to take her away, she thought, to do evil and forsake Nature. She shivered in fright and reached for a stake.
“Hush, woman, I mean you no harm.” Her grip on the stake faltered for only a moment, but she stood strong.
“Eh? Why you here then? Answer me!” Nula grew stronger and stronger in her conviction that the stake she held would save her from everything and nothing could threaten her. With a breath of pride, she inched closer with it raised.
“Why do you think I’m here?” He spoke in a rich accent. “I seek help.” Nula’s raggedy eyelids shot up. They’d been scarred by the threshes and thrashes of branches whenever she left town, marred by the rocks that adorned the mountains she’d once climbed… but that was too long ago. Now she was a feeble old lady, and the only activity her eyelids could manage was a dramatic leap.
“You… I’ve heard stories ‘bout yer kind. They don’t speak kindly of ye.” she said. Slowly and carefully, she brought the stake to a nice waist level.
“Ah, well, those are rumors. Surely you’d know the difference by now, Nulina.” He was cool and crisp, responding in a serene manner.
“How do ye know me name?”
“Oh, ‘my kind’ knows many things.” Seeing that Nula was pondering, the man stepped closer. He was careful not to push it, so as to drive her to fight him. In the days of yore, as he remembered, she’d been a fierce warrior. Such a pity that she should peddle in a dank village rather than living the days past.
“We want no evil here! Leave, night-thrall.” Nula raised her stake as she yelled, being careful so as not to bring attention. The few pedestrians paid the pair no mind; countless times the old hag had felt deep sorrow at their ignorance… but she would take no chances. Her town was peaceful, and she liked it just as it was.
“No, no! I mean no harm!” For the first time since the beginning of the brief conversation, the man was panicked. His eyes were stricken in a red web and his face contorted like a braid. The world around them seemed to slow as Nula fixed her gaze on him. The trees ceased their rustling and began to shiver noiselessly.
“Begone.” With the anger of an angry grandmother, she stepped forward to thrust the spear. The man was gone.
For the heart whose woes are legion
‘Tis a peaceful, soothing region
For the spirit that walks in shadow
‘Tis– oh, ‘tis an Eldorado!
Morgan Fay drifted silently through the night. He was tired from talking with the old warrior, drained from his journeys. Long ago, he had been out on a night not so different. It had been cold as it was in the town, with shivering trees and angry wind. It had been deep in the impenetrable expanses of the forest, where the mysteries of nature were concealed between cracks in the roots. There was nothing more invigorating than feeling your soul blend with that of the earth, the trees, the land… but at night? The world was awash in pain, anguish, despair. The night was a poison, a sickness.
He had an empty cup of ale when he stumbled into the forest, drops hanging like dew on his shaven beard. There was a faint uproar from the bar he had ran from but he was deaf to all noises. Morgan kept drifting farther out of consciousness and into the grip of intoxication.
La-uera sendirian… A cold voice seemed to ooze from the sky itself and crumble to the ground in wisps. There was a song, soft but ominous. The lyrics were sharp and edged, uttered in a foreign tongue… Morgan… the song was beginning to surround the desperate man as he stumbled back and forth…
Morgan… Do you wish to be free? All of the dark clouds that had shrouded his mind in a clump had been pierced by the voice. So alert was he that the moon seemed brighter than the sun had ever been in all of his years.
In Morgan’s intoxication, as is customary, he made poor decisions. First, to wander into the night alone. Second, to leave the expanse of the nearby town. Third, to accept the offer that the mysterious voice offered. As soon as his head nodded, the voice thickened, the sounds lengthened, the world stretched.
Good, good. The voice was laughing. When Morgan awoke, he had chains of darkness around his wrist.
Nula's village was his last hope, the only place he might find the knife that could free him. Of course, she wasn't likely to give it to him... he would have to get it himself.
After the sun had set and all of the wandering people had gone to bed, Morgan hoisted himself from the shadows. Darkness was like a heavy mist that sunk down and down in waves and was somehow discernible. Le Fay Street, Gawain Street, Genevieve Street... they were all quiet, the empty veins of the cadaver that was the town.
Nula's shop was right ahead, where there was a small flickering candle that always remained to ward off the poisonous dark from her wares. Morgan had gained much knowledge through the darkness, such terrible things that he'd rather not know intermingled with things of such interest that he giggled at them. The frail old lady was not one to idly disobey.
Morgan snuck his dark fingers under the flap and climbed in. There, snoring, was Old Nula. Drool slipped and curved from her lips to her collarbone. His heart pounded in his chest as he walked past her, almost starting at her loud snores. On the floor, there were many objects, various things of interest.
Ah, the Club of Brabantio, the lava hilt still glowing.
The poison whip of Claudius, lime as ever.
A couple of deadly smoke bombs.
Some old tarot cards.
An evil eye charm.
There wasn't anything there that didn't pull his fancy, but he forced himself away. You're here for one thing, he thought, don't get distracted.
The knife was nowhere in sight, not on the ground or the shelves. Every nook and cranny, every single hole and crack Morgan checked while staring at the snoring woman, but to no avail. Had she sold it? Surely not, she wouldn't try to burden anyone... Morgan doubted she sold anything in this town or made even a measly profit.
Then he saw it, when his hopes had just begun to sink like a ring into the ocean, ever deeper into despair. Beneath a book in the rightmost corner was a case. He cared not for the old lady now and pushed it aside. With a gleam, the knife Nocturne was revealed.
"Ha! I shall be free!" Morgan was giddy with excitement. His joy clapped against the silence of the night until the whoops echoed through the distance. As he was about to raise it to his arms, Old Nula pushed herself up to her feet. Ah, just another day, nothing special, she thought. Then she saw the man with the knife in his hand and yelled.
"Yeh'll kill us all! No!" But it was too late. In an explosion of darkness, Morgan's face contorted. There was no turning back, for all future decisions would cascade from the decision made long ago, the drunken one, which caged him and left him trapped. All through the night, a grim voice rang out. Oh, the foolish traveller, oh, the foolish man... now you'll lay beside him in a grim and undead land.
But the traveller, travelling through it
May not– dare not openly view it
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed