Monday, 16 June 2014

Forever Fog

Forever Fog
The world was not always as it is now. It's much older and more mysterious than many imagine. What is common now was once impossible, and visa-versa. Back in an age where knowledge and magic were closely entwined: a story unfolded.

Life in this era was perilous, filled with excitement and danger. The most adventurous of men turned to the sea for their fortune. Aboard flimsy boats, these foolhardy folk sailed into the unknown, laden with treasures to trade among far flung peoples.

Prince Linus of Greece, was just such a man. The youngest son of a Greek King, Linus was never destined to rest upon the throne. Six older brothers waited in line for that honour and Linus hadn't been blessed with the gift of patience. Deciding to carve out his own fortune he purchased a battered sailing dow from an aging Mediterranean pirate and rigged it with a second mast. Using every coin in his purse he loaded the ship with herbs, spices and fine cloth, before setting sail west.

Along the journey he made many stops, selling his wears and purchasing exotic goods in their stead. On and on he sailed until he came to the narrow straight that marked the end of the known world. Linus urged his nervous crew to keep a steady tack. His men believed if they passed this point, they would vanish from the face of the earth but Linus didn't believe such fairy tales. He kept his sail fully unfurled as he raced on. His men pleaded with the young prince to change his course but he was not for turning. He sent them below deck to secure the cargo while he took the teller himself. With deft touches of the rudder he slipped between the massive headlands without mishap. Linus let out a whoop of delight, drawing his crew back on deck. They celebrated still being alive with gusto and emptied a dozen pitchers of wine while the little ship sailed into the vast open ocean.

As the hours passed, the waves became hills to be climbed. The light water of the Mediterranean darkened to black but onward they sailed. Three days and three nights they traveled on brisk breeze with no sign of land. The crew looked at the prince with frightened eyes and he was starting to believe they had reason. At the end of day four, and having only a few skins of water left, the Prince commanded a change of course. His men fell on the sails with abandon, delighted to be heading back toward safety. As if sensing his move, the Gods of the abyss decided to show their might. The sky darkened and the sun vanished. The wind rose to a howl and waves crashed over their deck. As night fell the hills of water had become mountains and none believed they would see the morning. All night they battled the elements and when dawn turned the horizon pink they were still floating, just.

They bobbed in the dropping swell with a cracked mast, tattered sails and water flooded the hull as quickly as the men could scoop it out. The storm might have passed but they were far from safe. Two more days they battled to keep the ship above the waves, a battle they were slowly loosing. When hope was all but gone, a man cried out, “Land!”

It was a miracle.

They were pushed toward the fortress of cliffs by the current. It was a strange green land, very different to the sandy shores of home. Prince Linus spotted the mouth of a bay just as the sun left the sky. He turned his limping vessel into the dark and hoped for the best. It would be a tragedy to come this far and sink within touching distance of land. By the light of the moon they dropped anchor in sheltered water and for the first time in days, the weary Prince lay his head upon the deck to sleep.


When the sun rose over the Irish village of Beanntrai, smoke was already rising from morning cooking fires but all was not as it should be. A strange sight had appeared in the bay, a new island with two spindly trees growing on it. A boy was sent to wake the Druid to assess this bewildering occurrence. The boy raced up the hill and hammered on the Druid's door.

The Druid was the second most powerful man in the tribe, only surpassed by the warlord himself. He knew the healing plants and the ones that could kill, he knew many mysteries and was respected by all. As befits a man of his station, the Druid was wealthy and had three young wives to show for it. Unlike most men, the Druid didn’t believe women were dullards. He had always found them to be the most apt students. Each of his wives had proven themselves gifted in many ways and knew nearly as much about magic as he did.

The boy's excited knocking soon roused the Druid from his slumber. He went to the door, passing Fia, Corri and Gwyn as they prepared his morning meal. When told of the strange apperation the Druid raced to the water's edge to see for himself. Talk of a new island was too much for the women to ignore and they abandoned the cooking pot to follow.  

On the shore the whole village had gathered to see this strange new thing and the Druid had to push his way through the throng.

“What do you think it is?” asked the Warlord. The Druid studied the strange island and noted it moved in time with the water.

“It’s no island, it moves like a coracle.”

“A coracle of such size has never been made, how would it stay up? It would be far too heavy. And what of those trees that grow upon it?” said the Warlord.

The Druid was at a loss but was never going to admit such a thing. He strode to the water’s edge and righted one of the wicker framed boats. He launched it and with a practiced stroke of his paddle he moved in the direction of the strange floating thing. As he got close it was easy to see that this was a boat but one unlike any he had ever seen before. It creaked as the little waves rocked it too and fro. The Druid longed to inspect the craft, to unearth its secrets. He paddled a little closer and was shocked when a sun-darkened face popped up to investigate his splashing. Hazel eyes floated below a mop of impossibly black curls, a dark beard fell on a strong and hairless chest. The words that drifted from this man's tongue were exotic and unintelligible. The Druid wished to get closer but he daren't. This man might be a pirate or a barbarian.

The men stared across the water at each other as more heads appeared, seven in all. The Druid raised his arms, showing he held no weapons. The young dark haired man seemed to understand and he copied the Druid's gesture. A connection had been made, but only a fool would venture closer without learning more. The Druid turned his corrical and paddled back towards shore.

The Druid explained what he had seen when he reached the shore. A boat capable of carrying men, many men, across the top of the sea. The Druid advised the warlord to be wary of the newcomers, to hide all of value while the Druid made a plan. Eventually he sent his three wives to prepare a stew and bake fresh bread. Once the meal was ready the Druid selected Fia, his youngest wife, to deliver the foo to the men on the water. Fia tried to refuse but the Druid would abide no girlish strop and sent her on her way.

As she paddled, Fia was sure these savages would kill her or even worse. Her stomach churned with trepidation as she approached the magic ship. A row of dark eyes watched her approach but as she lifted the pot of broth, a man appeared who's appearence made her heart flutter. His beauty took her breath away and she felt lightheaded. He reached down and took the pot from her hands and smiled at her. Starvation knows no language and Fia understood the longing in the men's eyes was for the sweet smelling food, not her. Desperate hands reached down as she passed up a dozen bread cakes, all of which vanished in seconds.

She waited alongside while the sounds of laughter filled the sea breeze. The men finished every mouthful of food and the dark haired man returned the cooking pot with a huge smile. Fia’s hart jumped in her chest with delight. He held his hands in such a way that she understood he wanted her to wait. When he reappeared he held a bundle cloth in his arms. He passed it down and it felt amazing. It was so fine, so smooth, it felt like smoke in her hands. It could only have been made by the hands of a fairy. Fia tried to return the wonderful gift but the dark haired man refused and pointed at the shore. Fia knew it was a gift in return for the food. She paddled home as quickly as she could with her amazing treasure.

Fia made more and more trips to the magic ship until the Druid felt confident enough to return with Fia and climb on board the strange boat. In nods and gestures, the Druid and the dark stranger tried to communicate. Eventually the stranger made a gesture with his hand and the men pulled a ropefew. The island began to move and Fia clung to the side. The Druid looked terrified but the dark stranger rested a reasuring hand on his shoulder. Another gesture of the dark man's hand and and the men on board hoisted a vast stiff cloth to hang from a tree where it snapped stiff in the breeze. The boat surged forward pushing the ship ahead of it. Fia let lose a small cry and the Druid stood wide-eyedeye.

That night the ship lay at anchor a stone’s throw from the shore. A great banquet was held in the honour of the magical sea men. It was also the first time that Corri and Gwyn got to see the dark haired man that Fia couldn’t stop talking about. More importantly it was the first time that Prince Linus saw Gwyn.

Any that say they don’t believe in magic, have never seen a man and a woman falling in love. From the moment Prince Linus saw Gwyn his heart was lost and Fia knew it. Gwyn only had eighteen summers but she held herself like the queen. Her laughter was as sweet as nightingale’s song, her beauty paled all the flowers of the forest. Was it any wonder the handsome man grew blind to Fia.

As the days passed, the stranger sought out every opportunity to be around Gwyn, while his men carried out repairs on the ship. To the Druid, the fondness that was growing between the two was a tiny price to pay for the secrets of the ship. If he lost her heart to the stranger, it would sting, a little. Fia was not so forgiving of the burgeoning love.

Every look that passed between the two, cut her to the core. She hid her envy as best she could but the corruption started to invade every ounce of her being. Corri on the other hand was delighted for her Gwyn. Weeks passed and the ship was ready for sea once more. The food and water supplies were replenished but the thought of leaving the village threw the stranger into melancholy.

On the night of a full moon, the Prince bid his farewells to the Warlord in the few Irish words he had learned from Gwyn. Even now, Fia held hope he would see her love and realise what happiness she could bring him. She hoped against hope as the hours slipped away.

The village feasted into the night. When they thought nobody was watching, Linus stole Gwyn away from the festivities, but Fia had the eyes of a hawke. She watched him take Gwyn to a spot on the headland and point to the moon, then he pointed to the hill where it would vanish from view, his gesture was clear. She was to be at this point when the moon and the hill touched. She nodded her understanding and smiled with delight. Prince Linus took her in his arms and kissed her as Fia wished to be kissed. From the darkness she watched and felt hatred for the first time. Her soul became as dark as the night she hid in.  The lovers ran back to the banquet hand in hand, Fia was left in a storm of evil thoughts.

When the moon began its fall, the Prince raised his crew from where they slept. They rubbed their drink aching heads as they readied the ship for sail. On the spit of rock near the mouth of the bay Gwyn waited having left all her worldly belongings behind. In the dark shadow of a roan tree, Fia prepared her spell. She etched the ground with charms and opened the leather pouch containing the Druid's darkest tool. A black candle stub with a horrible smell rested in the bottom of the pouch. Fia encouraged a flame to catch some dry tinder before adding some twigs. Soon a fire was burning happily. From the pouch Fia removed a lock of hair that she had saved after Prince Linus had trimmed his locks. On the ship the sail was raised and it began its turn toward the mouth of the bay. Fia dropped the lock of the strangers hair into the fire and began her chant.

Magic words of elfish language fell from her lips, the curling smoke took on shapes that swam before her eyes. More smoke that was possible began to drift off the fire, rushing like a fog bank down the hill and across the water, moving against the wind and growing in size. Fia’s words came faster, her tone more guttural. With each passing moment, the terrible evil she was unleashing spread across the bay.

The ship sailed forward, into the un-natural bank of fog. When it had vanished from view, the moon was on the verge of touching the hill. Fia’s words reached a crescendo as she took another lock of Linus’s stolen hair and dipped it to the fire. It burst into flames which she used to light the black candle stub. The last word of the spell was cast as the wick spluttered into life.

The flame grabbed the misty tendrils of the smoke and dragged it back. Faster and faster the fog was drawn back into the candle until a flash of lightning boomed from the clear night sky, striking the ground where Fia stood, throwing her off her feet.

When Fia awoke the mist was gone, the magic ship along with it. All that remained was a full black candle sitting in her hand.  Fia sprinted back to the Druid's hut with her wax encased love cradled in her hands. Gwyn stayed the whole night on the headland, waiting for Prince Linus to arrive. In the dawn she returned to Corri and Fia with tears in her eyes and stone in her hart.

Days passed and all believed the magic ship had sailed out of the bay in the fog, never to be seen again, just another aspect of the magic they couldn’t understand.  Gwyn was no longer the woman she had been, she didn’t eat, never smiled. Her life began to slip away a day at a time. Fia kept the black candle hidden in the reed mat that she used as a pillow, holding it as often as she could. It didn’t bring her as much happiness as she thought it would, having her love so close to her. Corri was very worried about Gwyn, and one day when the girl could no longer raise from her sleeping mat, Corri asked the Druid to cast a spell for her.

“She is beyond my help, the magic that holds her is much stronger than any I possess,” said the Druid, sadly looking from Corri to Gwyn but ignoring Fia as she quietly sat in the corner. 

“You must try! What spell can there be that you can’t break?”

“Love, sweet Corri. Even you must have seen the way she looked at the Prince. Gwen suffers from a broken heart and will surely die from it."

“There must be something that can be done," she pleeded. 

Their husband shook his head again and Fia realised he was as heartbroken as Gwyn.

The Druid tended Gwyn in the days that followed but she only got worse, he tried everything he could think of but nothing worked for the girl. It was the following week while resetting the cooking fire Corri broke down in tears over Gwyn and Fia tried to comfort her.

“How could that monster break Gwyn’s heart this way?” she asked Fia.

“Prince Linus is not a monster, it was hardly his fault that Gwyn fell in love with him,” she replied.

“He is a monster and I hope he dies horribly.”

“Stop, you can’t say that,” cried Fia.

“Oh I can and I will,” said Corri lighting the fire anew. “That old wizzard of ours might not want to cast his spells but that won’t stop me. I'm going make sure Linus never loves another woman as long as he lives.”

“No, promise you won’t,” howled Fia, beginning cry. 

“What is wrong with you woman?”

Fia had no choice but to tell Corri how in love she was with Linus and if Corri cast her spell, Linus would never be able to love her back.

“That’s ridiculous, if he was concerned about any woman he would have come for Gwyn like he promised.”

 Fia told Corri how she trapped the ship with Linus aboard in the black candle beliving Corri would see how desperate she had been and would understand. After all, Fia was only waiting for the right time to release the Prince so he could be with her, she was saving him from himself.

Corri looked at Fia for a few minutes before making a face of disbelieve. “You’re lying,” she said.

Fia ran to her mat and drew out the thick black candle. Seeing the candle Corri flew at Fia, striking her viciously about the face. Fia dropped the candle while trying to defend herself, which rolled towards the open fire.

“No,” screamed Fia, as the flames touched the wick. The candle exploded into flame. Fia tried to extinguish it but once the black candle had been lit, nothing would quench it. Thick smoke billowed, filling the house, before bursting out the door and racing down the hill. Corri ran to Gwyn lifting the girl easily in her arms, she was as light as a feather in her sorrowful state. Corri struggled through the choking smoke eventually finding the door. Fia was laying on the ground outside, crying and coughing.

The thick smoke rushed down the hill, over the village and out onto the bay. By the second, the fog bank grew bigger and thicker. Fia spotted the Druid as he ran up the hill toward the house.

“What have you done?” he demanded of Fia and Corri. Corri was about to tell him what Fia had done, when Gwyn lifted her arm weakly and pointed. Corri’s mouth hung open as she watched the Prince’s ship sail serenely out of the fog bank with Prince Linus himself standing at the helm. The ship sailed directly for the headland where Gwyn should have been waiting. Gwyn smiled one last time before falling into a dead faint. Corri lifted the girl in her arms once more and ran for all she was worth and Fia struggled to catch up.

When Corri reached the headland, Prince Linus was searching for Gwyn. Corri’s legs collapsed with exhaustion, dropping Gwyn like the bundle of rags. Prince Linus ran to them, picking Gwyn up easily in his arms, his face a mask of confusion and concern. Corri had no words to explain, she just waved him back towards the ship and hoped the Gods would save them both. A hundred paces back Fia cried out for the prince to wait for her but he didnt hear. When the ship sailed out of Beanntrai Bay, the lovers were together at last. The Druid watched with awe and a measure of heartache. Fia cried the prince's name over and over again, long after the ship vanished over the horizon.

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