When magic first rose clean and pure in the north, the people of the other directions felt their own magic was but cheap trickery. Buffoonery, nostrums, and foolishness. Gestures and puffs of smoke. Nothing real, only conjured. For, in the north, magic began to permeate the peoples’ very beings, their skin and bones, their heart and soul so that each had a skill, a craft, a calling in the magical, the mystical.

Nothing like this existed in the annals of the directions or the middle. None could explain, so it brought fear and misunderstanding. All calamities were blamed upon secret incursions and forays by hordes from the north. The ravishment of women by invisible despoilers, changeling children and those born “not rightly put together,” dead livestock, rotten crops.

Fear grew into anger, with declaration of war not far behind. South first to cross the middle and break into the beginning of the northern forest. Easily repelled, the north wrongly assumed it’s show of weaponry, not magical powers, would stop other directions with similar intents. Rather, the result was the unprecedented meeting of east, west, and south on the middle. Soon, the calm and buffering peace of the middle was shattered by the hooves of war horses and soldiers.

Lord Skraeling and his army, assigned the north border with the middle, to hold back the blood shed so the stupidity go no further. Their weapons were made from argon, a mystical metal lighter than a feather to bear, but stronger than the heartwood of an ironwood tree to strike. Infused with magic by the smith that forged each piece. For while there was magic in the north, it was magic of the people, not of the wizard or the witch. The armour protected, the talisman protected, the spell protected, but the northerners were still of blood and bone. Not immortal. No wizardry or magic needed to kill or maim them. Hatred and a sword would do the deed.

The northerners were far outnumbered; before the battle – due at dawn – Lord Skraeling called his captains and knights into the feasting chamber of the stone house at which they were encamped. Each raised a chalice of mead as the Lord spoke: “We can not let them pass. The madness ends here, ends now. When we die, we keep our weapons and our souls and vow to stay to protect. Each of us from Lord to foot soldier must vow. If we can not protect the north alive, then we shall do so in death.” “And so I vow,” each captain and knight agreed. “And so I vow,” each archer and foot soldier agreed. An army of the living or an army of the dead; none shall pass this forest; none shall head north.

Culleen Callawe’en and her wolf-dog Vesta felt the cold damp drip of the fog rolling in off an invisible sea. They had come down the Old Ways trail without much incident. A late spring snow held them in the Grimwold Forrest for extra days, foraging for wood and lighting fires more difficult. She and Vesta celebrated the vernal equinox alone, her chanting under the moon with thin echoes in the trees. She cast wildflower seed to the morning breeze, with prayers that it fill a summer meadow with sweet delight. But now they stood before the Skraeling Wood, where the dead acted as the living no line drawn between for them.

She came to find her own magic – a Callawe’en, from the argon mines and forges with no magic craft or calling. A Callawe’en, turned feral as a child, whose soul beat with the earth, whose spirit lived with the trees. Heading to the middle to find what did not flow in her veins. A fool’s quest. Seeming even more so now with no argon-forged weapons; only her living tree staff, carved herself with totems and images she treasured, runes from before all was magic, Darwin – a friend’s likeness – and such.

They moved within the woods – the dead guarding the north from advances from the middle. They scarce saw a girl, in the guise of a boy, carrying a staff which seemed to shimmer off light in the blackness of the Skraeling Wood, followed by a wolf with traverse heading to the middle. Even those who stood guard at the gates, then front entrance of a crumbling stone manor house did but nod in response to her greetings. She stepped just inside the lintel. The rest of the trappings of the feasting room had rotted or were taken away. The dust of years layered the flag-stoned floor. The smashed and shattered stained glass window like a blinded eyed. All gone, but a single chair – Lord Skraeling’s chair. For it was in death, they held against the massed forces. In death, they rose up and fought as spirits and wraiths. In death, they remained.

The chair was empty now – Lord Skraeling reviewing his troops. Culleen wished they could be released. Find peace now.  The peace she hoped to find when she crossed the broken wall stepping from north to middle.  To learn more of Culleen Callawe’en and her quest to find her own magic, read here.

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt – secrets – #writephoto There is no one specific secret; they are everywhere in this, a piece of a questing story.

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© my frilly freudian slip

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