Time Slip…

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…Dusk falls quickly as the mists in autumn and here in the sheltered valley the light is fading. The thin grass is wet and dew-cold as they alight from their ponies, setting them to graze and drink from the wide, slow moving stream. They leave the sheepskins over the ponies’ backs.
It will be cold tonight. The sky is clear and a smell of frost is in the air.
Those who are to remain set camp, kindling a small blaze…

…They cannot ride the last stretch of their journey,
the hill before them is steep, the path narrow
and strewn with rocks.
He looks back at his companions and smiles grimly.
They are clever, the Old Ones.
Their place is high above the valley, an island between deep gullies and tumbling streams, well protected. This is the only way…
and any who attempt it could be picked off one by one…

…But that is not their way, nor is he an attacker.
He, chieftain though he is, mighty in arms and father of many,
tonight he is a supplicant. He studies the calm, pale face of the Weaver. Tall, slender… with that faraway look in his eyes… eyes that see little of the world, yet see into Beyond. They meet his and the Chieftain looks away…he cannot hold that gaze…it sees too much. It sees his soul and the lies there…

…No matter.
Tonight would be the last time.
His was the price of Knowledge.
They start towards the hill, climbing the rugged, slippery path.
Even for him, for his men, used to the desolate moors, the way is difficult. And it is doubly hard here… on this border between the worlds. Ahead a single boulder is outlined in the faint light, blocking the path. As he approaches it moves, standing… laughing tooth-less at their fear…

…Wild hair, grey and crowned with dead heather hangs down across the pendulous, naked breasts, wrinkled as weather-worn bark.
The Old One leans on a staff…
more for effect, he feels, than necessity.
He waits…silent… for the Old One to speak.
She does not. She simply looks on…
raking each with her eyes…
reading them one after the other… until she meets those of the fey one…

…She beckons and he approaches, kneeling before her.
She takes the alabaster hands in hers, turning them over,
tracing their lines and nodding as the delicate fingers hold themselves open to her gaze.
There is something silent between them as she traces the pale cheek with a long, blackened claw…leaving the dark trail of blood behind it. He does not flinch. Accepting…
She binds the pale hands, passing the cord around his neck, haltering him like a horse.
He does not move until she jerks him to his feet. Then he waits…

…The Chieftain watches shuddering and she cackles, delighting in his fear.
There is power here.
And it is hers.
She draws herself up to her full height
and strikes the flint-shod staff
against the stone beneath her feet…
sparks fly… once…twice…three times…
An eldritch cry escapes her lips, echoing eerily through the darkened vale.
His men draw back. Only he and the bound one remain.
The Old One pulls the rope and they begin the ascent…

…The ropes bite his skin.
His hands are soft, white, unblemished…
he is neither warrior not farmer…
it is his to see and to spin the lays of learning.
His gift is other than the rest, his body made for gentleness and dreaming.
He does not sing at the feast nor amuse his Chieftain on a winter night.
He Knows… he Sees… he Weaves…the Words.
He follows the Old One…
he could escape her grip, but he submits.
He serves the clan and his life is theirs.
Tonight he is the price paid… the gift to the gods…

…His eyes watch the dirty, cracked heels of the bare feet before him
on the path, skipping up the hillside like a child, ancient and ever-young. Light flares to the south, high on a rock…a strange, susurrating whisper echoes through the valley, winding its way like a mist-wraith through the bracken. Another light appears to the north. It is a deeper sound, like a heart beating slow… and steady. The sounds join… woven in a single note like blood rushing through the veins. The lights remain. Another joins them, another still, alternating, one after another, north and south. With each flare of fire a new sound… strange ululations and whispers, cries and the call of the hawk in the morning… the first cry of a babe and the sighing of the last breath…

– Heart of Albion

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