PETE COTSALAS - TALE OF YESTERYEAR
With a passion for storytelling spawning before he even could write, Pete Cotsalas, a Massachusetts native, does not feel accomplished unless he has written daily. Fiction is his passion. With a BA in English/Creative Writing he hopes to milk all the use possible out of this basic credential, and dreams of the world reading and enjoying his work. He is an avid reader and researcher in his spare time. To inspire himself, he often contemplates “If it exists, I can write about it.”
Tale of Yester year
Quietly, Glee returned from the corridor, closing the door. “Commotion did not draw attention. Even that Friar, supposed to be the institution chaplain remains asleep in that chair.”
Foul-smelling breath struck Ivanna’s nostrils as Froman leaned to whisper to her. “Something is terribly wrong with this man, methinks.” Nostrils expanded as he sniffed. “He has no scent. Even fairies hold a smell to me. Until now all that I could not smell were spirits. He is no specter, as solid as you or I. Somehow he is immune to my senses.”
Unsure how to respond, Ivanna remained silent. Lack of smell, accompanied with this man survived a decade without succumbing to starvation made her weary as well.
Trembling, regaining his composure, Chliste stepped forward to address the nameless man. “Before today I could not have cured your Barrier Shock. Answer to that riddle was never clear to me beforehand.” He stroked his chest, where new heartbeat throbbed. “I saw flashes of your memory as I restored you. One explanation exists. You are one of the Warlocks,” said Chliste, slowly. Everyone stared in shock. Froman growled, bearing his Wolf fangs.
Glee nodded. “It has long been believed by some that one Warlock either resurfaced, or was not banished. Universally, scholars and leaders alike dismiss it. Philosophers however, argue that such a return is not only likely, but ineluctable. He has been here a decade. Many oddities occurred around then. The year there was snowfall on the coast. Never before had that occurred. Not long after that, the moon turned a shade of blue. Many of us were fearful this meant impending devastation. Atmospheric phenomenon must have been announcing his arrival.”
“What is your name?” Fright tethered to Ivanna as she asked. She anticipated hearing information of which nobody else had been aware. Names of the Warlock leaders were never recorded.
The Warlock shook his head with shame. “I do not remember… I have not identified with my original human name, in nearly twenty centuries, I believe.”
Leaning forward, Glee spoke clearly. “We seek answers about Djinn.”
“You know of Djinn? Preparation has begun, do you know this? My brethren are preparing for their siege upon the living realm. It will happen soon.”
“Can you stall them from your position here?” asked Froman, with mistrust looming from his eyes.
“No,” said the Warlock, solemnly. “Contrary to what the populace believed during our reign, the Warlocks are not a collegium. Chain of command existed, as with any system which disregards equality. If you desire to know of the Djinn, I can provide. Djinn is a name synonymous with power. Against his abilities, oppositions are reduced to ninnies. It was the Djinn who originally gave us Warlocks the power, which we abused. Djinn are all powerful. They thrive on benefiting others. Forming reality out of the desires of others substantiates and empowers them. Djinn are the archrival or evolution, parasitic, like ticks suckling blood. Acquirement forms one of the basic dictums Faraoise conceived for life. Part of accomplishment is strive and growth it requires. When Djinn supplement a wish, and provide it, eliminating that, it hinders life essentials. I realized that too late. In these days of old, reality of Fathach was incomplete. Oftentimes, gaping holes appeared in the sky. Fabric of our world had holes, like in a cheese block. Occasionally access to another realm was possible.”
“Come along!” shouts of the shepherds echoed through the valleys of grassy highlands. Urging the herds of their animal companions along led to days of tireless journey. Scattered hoof-beats and incoherent bleats responded. From the Lower Grasslands, where their sheep and oxen grazed the eight men ventured to seek an audience with their beloved creator. Pristine, untouched soil was the gateway Faraoise preferred. Sixteen feet, of men accustomed to flatland braved the uphill strive to propose their request. A day’s walk before, in the northernmost village, the shepherds received directions from the townsfolk. A village Elder, a dwarf, directed them. “Walk the path north of the settlement, until it ends at the base of the mountain range. From there, follow the hillsides, until the pegs cease. On the first hill with no peg, you may make the call to Her.” Between dusk and dawn, by the light of torches, the shepherds marched, guided by the wooden markers, indicators of where others had summoned the attention of the creator. Upon these marked hillsides, the soil was no longer useable. Dozens of wooden stakes imbedded in the ground turned to hundreds. Hundreds of questions asked, and requests made.
At the sight of yet another peg following daybreak, the fourth shepherd groaned, urging a wayward sheep to keep with the others. Out of the corner of his eye, the eldest watched him raise his staff, threatening to strike the straggler, but withheld himself. “All of this distance, for what?” shouted the fourth.
Refraining from looking at his disgruntled companion, the eldest maintained his station at the head of the group. “Countless times I have told you. Change to Faraoise’s dictums cannot occur without her consultation.” Footfalls ceased beneath the eldest. Behind him, his seven human companions mimicked him. “We have arrived.” With a trembling finger, the oldest pointed to the next green hill, devoid of a peg. “There it is. Herds must remain here.” As the four-legged members of their troupe gnawed at weeds and dandelions, he explained. “Land up there must remain unimpeded, if we desire her attention.”
“Shall we all go?” asked the second eldest.
Dismissively, the first shepherd replied “No, I shall, alone. Faraoise discourages a large congregation. You know this. Stay and oversee the herds, the rest of you.”
Upon the mountaintop, the eldest shepherd knelt, and stroked the virgin soil sensually. “Lend me your ear, I ask, oh creator of all beauty on which I stand,” he murmured. Bowing his head, he eyed the cloudy horizon, wondering how she would appear.
“Such cordiality is unnecessary shepherd.” Soothing utterance from behind him startled the shepherd. Springing to his feet, he nearly caught his beard on the handle of his walking-stick. Rumors did the appearance of the naturalistic creator no justice. No measurement of beauty could describe what the mere man looked upon. Such hair, such complexion, it was as if a single ray of sun were reserved just to shine upon the nymph. Mixture of fear and hope swirled his heart in a whirlwind as he chose his words with discretion, posing the request. “Control over animals,” summarized the beautiful nymph goddess. Pacing the peak of the mountain, she looked at the shepherd. “This request is in defiance of my design, Shepherd.” Gazing at the sunrise, among the most beautiful spectacles she manifested, she shook her head. “Conception of mine is rooted in harmony among living things. Infringing on this seems dangerous.”
“Understand, please my humble creator.” As he spoke, the oldest shepherd removed his wool cap, wiping sweat. “Respect for our animal companions does not waiver. However, it is difficult to view them as equals. They do not possess our intelligence. Speech itself evades them. Simply, reasoning with them is trivial. We do not intend to unravel your success. We merely need to be able to use minor force. Something perhaps they will respond to. In the past you have allowed this. Tradesmen, what of them? They cut and modify wood and rock for their purposes. Daily, we burn wood for cooking and warmth.”
“Wood and rock serve dual purposes.” Faraoise scooped a fistful of pebbles in her glittering palm, eyeing them. “Methods the tradesmen use are the only way. Furthermore, stones and trees have no feeling to speak of.”
“Plants then, we devour those for food. Do they not live, feel?”
“Do you argue, shepherd? Vegetation knows its place. Until this dawn, I believed you did as well.” Reluctantly, Faraoise allowed the herding. Silence followed, as she pondered. “Go. Return to your pastureland.” With a nod, the shepherd murmured an apology for wasting her time. “Go with my blessing,” concluded Faraoise. Wearily, she turned her eyes, seemingly comprised of pure starlight upon him. “Trust that I will not regret this decision, may I? Plant your staff at the base of the mountainside, and commence herding.”
Not long after permission for herding was granted, thievery and murder were born in the same day. The youngest had a goat, the most reliable buck of any shepherd. One morning back in the grasslands, he awoke to tend to his dairy goat flock. As he brought his herd in from the pasture, he noticed his prize buck was missing. Guessing that a predator carried it off in the night, he resolved to keep better watch in the future. Later that same day, as he returned from the forest, with an armful of firewood, he passed the fifth shepherd, feeding a goat tethered to a stake outside his own milking shed. Immediately, the eighth youngest shepherd recognized the goat as his buck. With a clatter he dropped the faggot of wood. “My buck, that is my goat! You took him from my herd?”
Out of utter rage, likes of which he never knew, the eighth shepherd ripped a grapevine from a nearby tree. As the fifth turned, he wrapped it around his neck, and pulled back with all his might. The two fell backward. The older shepherd gasped for air, and clawed at the vine. Pressing his teeth together in fury, the younger watched as the older man’s lips turned blue. Then he collapsed and lay motionless. Strained muscles receded as the dead shepherd’s head fell into the other’s lap. “What… have I done?”
After burying the body, he attempted to behave as though nothing occurred. He gathered grain, attempting to disremember his deed. Walking downhill, toward the pastureland, he was approached. Sight of this being caused him to drop the sheaf he carried over his shoulder. Barley was strewn all about. Look away. Every instinct he possessed told him to ignore this creature. But he could not. Never before had he seen a creature so formidable. “Who, what are you?” Mouth agape, the youngest shepherd stared, astonished that Faraoise would spawn such a thing.
With a deep, echoing brogue, the creature replied. “In the tongue of your budding world, I believe it would be pronounced Djinn. I visit from an obscure realm, on the fringes of existence. You desire power, shepherd. All of your remaining brethren have sampled it. Do not deny, you felt a heightened sense of it as you throttled your fellow man. Today, I come here to honor your wishes. Power you shall have, not only over sheep and cattle. You will have dominion over everything which your creator bestowed upon your little world.” That was what the Djinn did.
Upon realizing their newfound power, the seven remaining shepherds began by constructing the First Tower. Defying Faraoise’s harmonious design once again, they pulled rocks and clay from the ground, and heaped it, forming a tall structure, casting a portion of the continent under a shadow. Such irregular use of her materials caused Faraoise to appear herself in the grasslands. In horror, she watched as these deeds she did not approve unfolded. An ox turned on a spit, over a roaring fire. Bones lay at the shepherds’ feet, flesh gnawed to the sinew. Pain itself gazed at the shepherds from Faraoise’s face. Starlight vanished from her eyes. It looked as if two tiny eclipses stared from her sockets. Faraoise hid herself thereafter underground. After she disappeared, something fluttered from the sky: a small speck, with a pattern, cold to the touch. It landed on the forehead of the youngest, as he sealed a stone of the tower with more clay. Imprint of the small frozen object remained on his head forevermore.
“Before that day, not a being in Fathach had seen snow,” the youngest Warlock concluded the anecdote, staring into the cracked chamber-pot beside him, dry as an autumn leaf. “That tiny snowflake was the first. Snowfall began that day, and did not cease until we parted the clouds.” Head hanging shamefully, the Warlock finished his manifesto. “More empowered we became here, the more powerful the Djinn became in his own, perpetually feeding off of the synergy of our wish. Only Djinn themselves occupy their realm, therefore they do not cope with other beings until traveling to others. They caused plague in the fairy realm which the Selkies and the banshees, and Puca came from as well. With every Djinn-granted wish, there comes immeasurable price. For us, the price was our very heart.” He touched his chest. “It was the most precious gift which Faraoise entrusted us with. We were petty, used it for bargaining. Never will I forget the look in Faraoise’s eyes when she looked upon us compiling that tower, without a drop of sweat, or use of a tool.”
Questions stampeded through Ivanna’s mind in such a galloping flock, she did not know which to ask first. “In the Death Realm, had you ever encountered the other shepherd you murdered?”
“No, he was not there. As it currently exists, the Death Realm was not spawn until the War, as a plane of existence in which to banish us. In the days of Fathach’s youth, I do not know where departing souls of the dead went. Faraoise may not even know which realm.”
Myria was in just as much disbelief as Ivanna. “Everything, the warlocks’ power, their enslavement of Fathach, The Days to Forsake, and devastation and extinction which accompanied them, it was all the work of some magical being from another realm?”
Wide-eyed Glee voiced perhaps the least helpful question following the tale. “That first tower you constructed, of rock and slate, that must be the Cairn of Milo, it remains there.” Nobody bothered to dignify this observation with acknowledgement.
Ivanna shook her head. Anachronism of the storyteller’s presence remained unanswered. “I do not understand how you are here… How did you escape the realm which you and your accomplices were banished to?”
“A fastidious hidden exit,” he explained. “Many do not know of its existence. Fewer are able to find it. Aboveground once again, it matters not. Without my brethren, and being the only no longer desiring the power, I am nothing.”
“Curing his Barrier Shock was not enough,” murmured Glee to Ivanna, Froman and Myria behind him. “Potentially, he could be the most valuable ally attainable for our upcoming war. However, he seems downtrodden, not of his body. Of his soul, I mean.”
Within Ivanna’s mind, a theory surfaced. Looking at the mark on the young former shepherd’s forehead, where the first snowflake struck him, something occurred to her. Perhaps it would help. Or perhaps it would not. Instinct was urging her to try it. Approaching Chliste, Ivanna asked the strangest question a woman of her vast education likely would ever inquire. “Can you make snow, Chliste?”
Chliste conjured a gust of cold winter snow in the bedchamber. Through the miniature snowstorm, Faraoise’s voice whispered “Malgreg.”
In amazement, Glee watched as the snow melted into water, dripping to the stone at their feet. “Did she say Malgreg? What does that mean?”
Echoing the strange word, the young Warlock uttered “Malgreg.” Eyelids expanded. He gazed at the reflection of his visage staring up at him from the water pooling on the floor. “That… that was my name, Malgreg.” Unseen force caused him to stand from the bed. Bones crackled as they moved for the first time in years. A grin spread across his face. “Malgreg, I am Malgreg!” Before her eyes, Ivanna watched as an overlord dissipated, and man dead for centuries was reborn. Yet another heartbeat joined the collective pulsing energy of their fledgling resistance.
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