The middle existed to hold the directions together. North, from which Culleen Callawe’en came: cold, deep forests; thick snow; argon mines; pure magic. South: hot and steamy; exotic, erotic dreamscapes. West: farms and peasant farmers; lords and ladies; kingdoms and principalities. East: wild, untamed; sea tang; storms; wind-buffeted.

Culleen, born bereft of magic, felt pulled to the middle as if she would find her magic there. A fey quest to be sure, but one she must make. Though versed in nature and earthly arts and could defend herself with staff and short sword – a decommissioned blade of argon re-forged with no magic, Culleen still keenly felt her strangeness. Even Darwin’s surprisingly pleasant strong embrace and deep kiss upon her departure could not stop her and Vesta – more wolf than dog – from seeking some source of magic for herself. Perhaps with it came the answer to the forever-asked question:  How could a Callawe’en, the strongest of the argon miners and forgers; best of the spinners and weavers; the clan where magic pulsed with vigor through veins like argon through their mines or life through their textiles, be born humanish from the before times?

Coming through the crumbling Skraeling Forest Wall, the old defense works from the dark days, Culleen noted the north’s dark pines giving way to the middle’s lighter shades of green. Camping just outside the wall, she and Vesta sat up the long night watching a different skyscape wheeling o’er head. Just before dawn snatched the moon from the sky, she finally slept, head on Vesta’s flank, dreaming of magic, of Darwin, of home.

The middle was a mystery; once someone had lived here. Foot paths were worn through the light woods, stone foundations lay in ruins, fields abandoned. In the dark times when all were against the north, jealous of the people and their magic, perhaps hatred spilled upon the middle, Culleen thought when she would come upon another scarred landscape. There was a strangeness to the abandonment: in places, the signs of habitation were so overgrown as to be almost part of nature again; in others, so recent as to seem like yesterday.

The quiet was eerie; the sudden snap of a branch or call of a bird jangled Culleen’s nerves as she and Vesta explored further from the north wall. On the third day, they came upon a stairway carved into the side of a hill. It curved around under ancient trees bent with age. Huge tufts of grass and brackets of ferns lined, and in places, over grew the steps. The nature of the air changed, growing thicker and still. Vesta bared her teeth; the protection runes on Culleen’s staff shimmered a faint glow. She took each step as a caution, unsure what lay beyond the next.

At the bottom, a dark opening into the undergrounds gaped at her. Perhaps once a smaller, natural cave opening was enlarged by a series of cuts, then supported by stone masonry. A low wall fronted the entrance, and the rock face was thick with soft mosses and rough angles. She could feel the warmth of her grandmother’s amulet against her skin. This was a place of darkness, of sadness, of longing, of sorrows.  Whether the entrance to a tunnel or a cave, this spot spoke to Culleen of ritual horrors. She had nightmarish visions awash in red and pain. She could feel the sharpness of the knife blades drawn across limbs. Expelling life forces were roaring in her ears.

She was startled to find herself half-way inside, Vesta’s barking echoing in the antechamber; her teeth nipping at Culleen’s calves. With a shout that joined Vesta’s echoes, Culleen turned, nearly falling over the wall, and ran back up the steps and through the forest until her lungs would burst. She collapsed to her knees with Vesta panting by her side. One mystery of the middle was partially solved. Not all abandoned their spaces and places willingly.

Part 3 of Culleen Callawe’en, Quester for Sue Vincent Thursday Photo Prompt Mystery #Writephoto

For Part 1 read here

For Part 2 read here

© Lorraine 2016