Photo by Philipp Pilz / Unsplash

EF Novella CHAPTER 15

Story Dec 19, 2023


Someone, somewhere, at some point in time, once said that time was a flat circle, that all things that came before will in fact come again, and thus humanity is bound to play the same lost saga, again and again, a permanent loop of life, death, and life once more.

And so Winston kept walking, deep into the woods, until the world's ending. First came the endless winter, and the howl of the wolves, followed by the shattering clash of thunder.

The world broke and was no more. The earth was scourged clean of life until it became time for it to start again. Life began and  bloom and evolved and spread until there was again, a young man walking through the dark woods all by himself, chronologically in the future, but living thusly in the past.

The lord of the cave made no attempt to conceal his dwelling, and neither did nature came to his aid — the trees, thick, wild, and strong, seemed to serve as grand pillars for his cavernous domain.

The entrance of the cave was painted in red ochre. Done crudely and barbarically, giving the area a permanently foreboding, hellish anima, made to resemble grasping hands...seeking succor, or entreating escape?

Towering over this unpleasant fusion of wood and rock was a sign, pale and clear, etched above the cave's mouth — a diamond with a harsh line bisecting it down the middle — the Eye of Warding.

And yet despite these obvious warnings to be left alone, people still flocked to the cave, for there dwelled their Skjald.

They came to him, ragged and weary, bringing tribute in exchange for wisdom, proffering it with shaking hands. The Skjald took them wordlessly, crossed his legs, and sat before the bonfire, waiting for his visitors to speak.

"Bodies," the man quavered, took a swig from his waterskin, and continued.

"We found bodies — corpses. Strong men, strong women, all sleeping on the red snow. Monstrous wounds like great spears. We sent hunters, fifteen boats, she sent them back downriver in pieces."

The Skjald remained impassive. The bonfire causing his eyes to appear menacing and infernal, his heavy wolf pelts serving only the heighten his bestial mystique. In his slender fingers he held an obsidian axe, his thumb running up and down the smile of its blade, as if deep in thought.

The others began talking too, murmuring, whispering, their words blurring into each other. A susurrus of superstition coalescing into one word.


This stirred the Skjald, who tilted his head ever so slightly, as if wondering if he misheard, something strange began happening to his expressionless face. Something between a smirk and a scowl, a Janus on the verge of mirth or anger.

"We seek your wisdom, great Skjald, deliver us from the Fell Deer!"

A great intake of breath. The black axe laid aside gently, he picked up the first of his tribute. A silver lanx, an elegant, curved vessel, strong enough to hold Fenrisian Mjod.

As he held the vessel out by its slender handle, the plaintive petitioners moved gingerly to pour the oily-black beverage from a thick metal bottle, scurrying backwards as fast as they could while maintaining decorum once the lanx was filled.

The Skjald sarcastically raised his lanx, and drank deeply. Maintaining eye contact with his visitors, he raised an eyebrow before exhaling the Mjod in a gentle spray towards the bonfire.

At once, the flames leapt forward like a vengeful lover, snatching and clawing at the master of the cave, to the horror of his guests. The light dancing off the cavernous expanse, along with the wolf pelts he was wearing made the Skjald looked like a hellhound of the underworld.

The fiery vision lasted a mere moment, and in the next, the lanx was put aside, the vessel charred black, never to be used again. The Skjald was sucking his teeth, wiping his mouth as if nothing had happened.

He looked into the distance, chuckling, a sound like crumbling rock that ended with a low, wolf-like growl. The Mjod ritual was meaningless. He had seen through the petition immediately, cutting past the superstition straight to the heart of the matter.

But this was all part of the dance. Attaining wisdom through Mjod was an important rite. Belief in the rites was what made the sagas eternal. It was what bound the wyrd with the world. Humans needed these little dances for them to move in lockstep with the music of the spheres.

"What would you have me do?" The Skjald said, his voice deep, resonating down into the bones of the earth, a semi-divine entity inhabiting a mortal shell.

Grovelling before the great lord, the terms of the hunt were thus iterated:  

"Seek out the Fell Deer and cut her thread. Dismember her remains into many pieces so that the Maleficarum dares not return."

A grim smile as the Skjald got to his feet, picking up his axe as he rose.

"Her," the one word loaded with a multitude of emotion. Derision, amusement, anger, incredulity.

As he stepped over the bonfire and out of the cave, the flames lay flat, prostrate, before extinguishing itself at the whim of its master, leaving all in darkness.

It didn't take much to find the creature's lair. In a traditional hunt for monsters, one would have to delve deep into the wilderness, the creature steadily retreating further and further as more and more hunters came to try their luck.

This one had stood its ground. No doubt taken by its graceful elegance, men and women alike have tried to claim it for their own, only to be rebuffed. This aloofness only drew more people keen to tame it, and now the rivers ran red with the blood of those who didn't know how to take no for an answer.

And that was where the Skjald found it — head bowed in the river as the waters washed away its latest kill. He took a step towards it, not concealing his approach, deliberately stepping on twigs and making as much noise as possible.

There was nothing fell about this deer at all. It was indeed, beautiful, graceful, powerful, strong, all those qualities that a hunter craves in a worthy prey. What also became abundantly clear too, as it reared its head, spraying droplets of water in every direction as its crown of antlers burst through the water's surface, was that it was definitely, absolutely, not a she.

People can be so blind sometimes. They see a beautiful animal and they want it, assume all kinds of things about it, even give it a dreadful name like the Fell Deer...but can't even realize that this creature was a stag.

The Skjald raised his axe. Not threateningly, but in an almost matter-of-fact, sheepish kind of way, as if in greeting. The king of the forest stared at him, huffed, stamped its hooves, and stalked towards him menacingly.

Standing tall in his wolf pelts, the hunter stared down the great beast, meeting its eyes, a curious twinkle in his eyes as he dared the stag to draw first blood. The two stared at each other for a long time as the river flowed about them.

Both sensing no immediate danger from the other, the Skjald reached out and stroked the creature's elegant neck. At this, it shook its crowned head in annoyance, huffing and stomping, made its way back to dry ground, and back towards the treeline.

Following a respectful distance behind, they soon arrived upon a verdant glade. Here, time seemed to stand still, the river could not be heard and the sounds typical to nature were silenced.

Feeling tired, both man and beast sat down under a large yew tree, resting their backs on it. The Skjald yawned, guilelessly. The stag snorted and soon fell asleep next to him.

In this peaceful, comfortable silence, an eternity soon passed again, and when they awoke, in the place of the stag laid a beautiful woman, her hair a pale green that hung down to the small of her back.

He caressed her cheek and stroked her hair ever so slightly, as if the act of touching her may cause her to disappear in a puff of smoke.

"You know, there has to be an easier way for me to get a reply out of you."

Elodia looked at him with a strange expression on her face, leaning into his touch and nuzzling his fingers.

"They wouldn't leave me alone."

"I can protect you, keep you safe," his hand brushed against her naked shoulder.

A soft, indrawn hiss.

"I can protect myself. Many now sleep on the red snow."

"Yeah, well. This can't be good for your mental health."

"Beauty is pursued and harassed in this land, such is the way of things."

They remained under that tree for a very long time, lying close to each other, whispering softly, intimately. Their conversation going in circles just as time has, and shall again.

"I must fight. To preserve how I am seen. By others. By myself. I must remain beautiful, coveted, wanted."

Elodia looked at him with those big, sad eyes.

"Or I will simply cease to be."

"You will always be beautiful to me."

A strange sound. Both a snort of derision and a wounded exhalation.

"That is not the way of this land. You take a female form, you are adored, worshipped, hunted. You get tired, you show your true self, believing that truth will set you free. Then it's the truth that kills you, because nothing is the same any more. Round and round we go, again and again — it will never end."

She tilted her head, regarding him with a sideways glance.

"Kill me."

He stroked her cheek, shaking his head in wordless refusal. Elodia closed her eyes and shed her form before his gaze. A muscular, male body was visible for the briefest of moments before collapsing into sand.

It wasn't until several eternities later that Winston emerged from the woods. By then it was again dark, with only the moon as his guide.

Two flashes of light, a red shape straddling the forest path. Christine.

This time Winston got into his car and drove off, back to the City.



I can typing :B