Following the trail of death left behind by the crackling ice*, Culleen of clan Callawe’en and Vesta, her wolf-dog, turned towards the easterlies, crossing the abandoned lands under the fickle rising and falling of the middle’s sun. When they slept, they dreamt, of the ice-pack Northern ocean of their home. The glacial creep of ice islands, broken shale shores and raven’s clacking calls. Sea foam green were her eyes, raven haired was she. But she was born without the magic which flowed in the veins of the argon mines, in the veins of her people. Humanish, she grew feral as a child. Now a young woman, she went on her fey quest, to find her own magic where no magic was said to lay.

Perhaps in the breakers and combers of a great eastern sea, the flotsam and jetsam of a thousand lost ships, in the sea glass and high-water treasures, was the amulet, the wand, the chest with book of incantations that would give Culleen a small special power, a call to magic that she might go home. Breath life into the textiles she spun. Bring light into the darkness. Heal the body and the mind.

Most folk hold some small magic. Others, as her parents, burn hot and bright with it. Conjure, transmute, transform, and forge the strongest and lightest of weapons. Or thump the loom into a living tapestry. Darwin, her friend, her suitor ? she wondered after his parting embrace, would try to cheer her, “But you keep alive what needs be remembered. How Nature once sustained us before magic rose pure and clear. What the Giving Grove has to offer such as the fine living wood for our staves.” With this he raised over his head the staff Culleen had taught him to choose as a piece of heart wood, carve and defend with, just as the Grove had taught her.

For the first time since deep in the northern woods, the protection runes she carved into the staff were not aglow. A safe spot, perhaps, or one of treachery, rather than torture or mystery. Clouds hung low, the new stars slipped in and out of their grey capes held open by the piercing moon. Yet, she felt tingly – a kind of anticipation; a premonition that something of import lay before her. Vesta sensed the nuanced yet electric change in the air too. “Let us break encampment, tired as we may be.” – just as the moon fully pierced the star’s cloud capes. A silvery torch by which to lace on Vesta’s traverse as the wolf-dog chafed to be off – to lead her pack of one. She howled a beginning, and Culleen howled in answer, pulling her willow basket packet upon her shoulders, their new companion, a raven, flying in for the ride.

Vesta set a hard pace as the land undulated upward. Her breaths coming in familiar puffs and plumes, Culleen fell into the rhythm of the run. Stretching her limbs, rather than her mind and memories was welcome. As the moon reluctantly gave up it’s short hold on the sky, there appeared a deep fog or miasma cross all of her field of vision. Now, glad of a break, she swung down her pack and whistled to Vesta. The raven, she’d named, Kutkh as without magic she knew not it’s proper name, perched on her shoulder, quizzically scanning the bank of fog ahead.

It did not smell of sea and moiling ocean; it reeked of the dankness of land and swamp. What lay between them and the great eastern sea, she thought, drizmal swamps of slogging mud, dangling moss like dank wood witch’s hair. No moving forward until she could sense out what route she must take. Kuth flew forays, but his words meant nothing to her. Warned she had no magic, he did not foresee such limitations. Taking a stick into his break, he drew a pictograph – the fog, despite it’s stench, disguised an escarpment – not a swamp or mire. A solid barrier – natural or man-built separating the middle from the easterlies.                           

Culleen, staff at the ready, stepped into the fog and within paces was confronted with the roughened stone. Too long a rock face to trace and too high to climb, her only chance was a portal, crack, tunnel, cave pathway or split to this seemingly impenetrable fortress keep. This piece had the feel of man – as if discontent with nature’s built, man had cut stone to fit crack here, egress there. An unnatural feel to a natural phenomenon.

This rallied Cullen’s spirits – age might have crumbled and not been maintained. Certainly, not from this side of the easterly fortress. The middle remained de-peopled, spaces abandoned to dark rituals. If tunnels guarded by wraiths, then so be it, she shivered. Though she was better prepared to fight the living than the dead. She let Kutkh chose direction – he drew the wall in the dirt so knew it best. If not sent from home to be her protector, then this would prove his undoing or hers.

Culleen was correct – within an hour’s march, an easily breechable split in the escarpment wall appeared. Narrow, at it’s mouth, Culleen would needs be disguise the traverse and pack, and strike a torch. Sharp, thorny bushes seemed planted as an extra defense. Laying on her side, she could see the branches grew such as to create a hollow cache inside. She wrapped hands and arms with thick linen traveling cloth, and with staff and force of will, pushed the traverse and pack as deep as she could inside. The pricks and drips of blood would heal – Vesta licking at the worse of the wounds. A rest, back against wall, sharing of food gathered and trapped, a lilt to those missed, and a chant to the luck of the endeavour. Then, slinging her leather pouch across her shoulder, adjusting short sword, small bundle on her back. A step away from the cool air emanating from the slit, she tindered her torch, and bide her companions join should that be their will. A howl and a clack, and Culleen turned sideways through the gap.

Culleen sensed the sea tang within a few feet. The rocks dripped salty upon her neck. A second turn, and she put out the torch. Sunlight and sea smoke from the thunderous breakers flooded a small chamber made, or enhanced, by man. She heard the combers against a pebble and sand beach. Heard the cries of birds drawn to the tides. She moved towards the “window”, eager to look out upon the great easterly sea. She was framed in the sea smoke – fey looking with hair down and unclasped, wearing her brother’s castoffs and soft boots, cloak swung to her non-staff side, leather pouch slung to the other.

What was this? – she jumped back. An illusion, a vision, a dream. She stood about 5 foot above the beach, looking down and over at a young woman – herself? running in and out with the waves, pouch dangling with beach treasures no doubt. She watched as she/another woman bent to examine detritus at the high-water mark while a large dog frolicked in and out of shallow water thoroughly shaking itself dry as the woman screamed with glee.

Culleen eyed the distance to be scrambled down to the beach and to where she (?) and Vesta (?) played as the birds of the tides, curious, swooped and swirled. With a push, she was off through the sea smoke, heading for the shore of the great easterly sea and whoever else played upon it’s shore.

Written for Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt smoke #writephoto

* From last week’s #writephoto cracked ice: and the flow did arise in the east

If Culleen’s quest is of interest,

For Part 1 read here

For Part 2 read here

For Part 3 read here

For Part 4 read here

(c) Lorraine

Stan Roger’s “Maid on the Shore”