They were sacred days to some, after the fall of the Witchkings it was as if time returned to the valley. Crops withered and died, meals were quickly eaten as the sun fell below the horizon. The villages beneath their wide bulwark felt their loss, It was less like a sudden blow to their hearts. It was more a harrowing reminder in the cold night that the evils they’d kept at bay had returned quietly to the fields beneath each new moon. They’d come back to the village well and crept whispers between the mortar. They’d arrived, on one particular occasion, to the bedside of a farmer’s daughter…
Orlaith had but scraps to call her own when she first heard the ringing of the Scholar’s Bell. The long spring day twisted round the sun as it made its slow and steady way to the crest of the mountain ridge above her. She was out that evening with her prized cow, Bridgid, and an empty pail of milk. Her last chore of the day as the sun threatened to fall below the horizon.
Nestled at the foothills of a large ridge, her family had been working the land since long before her grandfather and if what her dear daddy told her in the not-quite safety of their cobblestone cottage were to be believed, the dark was not safe anymore.
The darkness used to be safe, her father had told her. He’d never explained why, but she was freshly thirteen and figured it had something to do with the fire upon the ridge. Some few nights before her father had told her that the nighttime was no place for young girls, a nearby monastery had lit with flame and burned to the ground.
To Orlaith, milking the cattle had been something she’d clung to. Her older brothers turned their nose at the task, letting her know that it was her place or her purpose to be at the base of an utter. They’d been a playful group in their youth but as power shifted around them, as the Monastery atop their little hillside burnt to the ground they found themselves in a place they’d never found themselves in before. Orlaith and her family were running out of food. Every winter before the great fire at the monastery a group of kind, well-meaning folk would venture down the hill with baskets of bread and cured meat to them and the others who lived further down the fields. Her father would thank them and offer to pay but every year they declined.
Then, when the last bitter cold would set in they’d find themselves low on their stockpile of food and turning towards the gifts given to them. These men came once a year, every year, and sometimes would stop by each season. Every time they showed up they’d have something new that Orlaith nor her brothers had ever seen. Fruit with strange shapes and colors like it had been made up in their imaginations, and books specifically for her that one particular man said he’d handpicked. He, among others, made frequent visits to the family farm at the turn of the season when the harvest had ended. They brought salted meats and fruits unlike any she’d seen before. Her favorite gift from the monastery folk, however, were the books they’d brought. They would come with wagons filled for the family and atop those wagons each time she saw two or three books tied down with a thin leather strap. She cherished their appearances, and these special times outside of winter when they came became a treat to the kids. Fruit spoils and their father wasn’t a man willing to waste much if he could help it, so these special deliveries became long nights where she and her siblings would circle the hearth and split the sweet-tasting fruit that she could hardly describe with words other than delicious. Once they’d gorged themselves, they’d fall asleep where they were and wake the next morning to get back to their chores.
Life so far away from the bustle of the English thumb suited them, getting by each year on gifts given freely didn’t please her father much but it was what it was and Orlaith didn’t complain. Not until that winter, that winter those men didn’t come down from the hilltop. She looked each night for 14 days and didn’t once see the familiar torchlight or the pop of their sandaled feet against the dirt. Every morning when she woke she hoped for a basket to be laid by their door side but every morning she was disappointed until it was all she felt.
It wasn’t much to her brothers, they didn’t have the same connection to those gifts that she did, she wanted to leave the farm and get out where people were, to see the places spoken of in the books. To find the fruit they’d been gifted so often with her own hands. Life away from civilization suited her fine enough, but it wasn’t perfect. Most of the time she’d get her day’s work done without so much as a word so she could get back to her room where she’d kept a little cedar box her grandfather had made years before his untimely death. Inside it, she kept what scraps of burnt wood she could salvage from the hearth and stow them away for the off days when she could draw and read freely, which she knew would come every winter. Her workload lightened around the first chilly week of the year as her father made sure to keep her from the hard jobs he said were suited for young men like her brothers. Somehow the drought of day to day scrub work and her brother’s snide comments about everything she enjoyed turned her off to the idea of another winter at the farm, especially with the absence of the Monastery on the hill. As she worked with Bridgid, she remembered the night of the disaster.
The night of the fire she awoke with a start as if a voice called out to her. A familiar one, which belonged to one of the men who had journeyed down from his home at the monastery to bring her and her family gifts. She’d been given books by them every year after she’d turned eight, old enough to read according to the scholar who spoke to her the night of the fire. In the five years since she’d been given the first book, she’d amassed quite the collection. A collection of books that resided on her bedside when she couldn’t sleep. She’d open a page and peer through it, and snack on the fruit that the scholars had offered to her.
The night of the fire, the books and drawings remained her constant companions as the mountainside roared in flames. She watched quietly through her window as the building fell piece by piece and threatened the men and women who tried to flee the churning mass of heat and hatred. Nestled deep within the chaos, she could make out two folks who’d remained. A man and a woman who stared down a great face amid the flames and smoke. The thing inside the burning monastery turned to meet her gaze and she shook with fright. She pulled the linen cloth above her and hid beneath it as she watched as discreetly as she could, while the monastery fell to rubble. She’d heard the sounds of her father and brothers making their way outside to watch the spectacle and noticed that none of them tried to make their way up the hill and save the two who remained inside. She remembered that even after the fire had gone out, and sleep had taken her.
The days passed quickly after that night. Sun up to sun down she returned to her life of chores in the early morning, dinner, and then to her room to draw or read before she fell asleep with the books atop her. This continued for some number of days, how many she’d forgotten. The winter came that year and she grew to miss the scholars more so than ever before, the books she’d finished and re-read a thousand times never to be added to. So she continued reading until she’d memorized the pages. The night would fall and she would retreat to her room and pick up where she left off until one night in the dead of winter she was visited by Something that was not a scholar at all.
She heard the ticking of the thing beneath the windowsill outside and crept up to peer over the edge. Below her, she spotted a thing, which was the only word she could use to describe it. It looked like her, or her father if her father were barely taller than the chickens they raised and was covered in dark blue scales. It limped around on legs thinner than the rope that held up their well. The Small Blue Something that limped beneath her window was like her, but not and so terribly pained by something else. It dragged behind it a small chunk of carved wood that had been covered in burn marks. It noticed her stare and hoisted the wood atop her windowsill before it hopped off and scampered back out into the darkness. She took the wood piece from her window and stowed it where she stowed all of her lovely gifts… on her bed.
Many nights passed before she saw the thing again. Her dreams became vivid and strange after the first night as if it had left memories with her of places she’d never seen nor dreamed of before. Each morning she woke and took the charred piece of wood, and began sketching what she’d seen. When the thing returned, it returned with a burned piece of paper. It climbed up to her window and jammed the parchment beneath the seam, then it paused for a moment to look at her. Small yellow eyes that bulged from its long pointed face looked her over for a while as a long thin tail like a rat’s stretched around its clawed feet.
Without as much as a nod, it jumped back from the window and ran again into the forest. She took the burned piece of paper and placed it safely inside one of her books that she would inspect the following day, and inspect she did.
The burned piece of paper looked similar to the books the scholars had brought her, although it was covered in writing she had never seen before. Many curved lines and dots decorated the page and when she realized she had no way to understand it, she packed it back into the book and went to sleep.
She found herself eager to meet her small companion on its next visit, and she was pleased when he arrived a third time a few days after she’d given up trying to understand the paper. This time, he carried with him a small polished stone. He placed it on the windowsill and tapped the glass, a crooked smile on his tiny face as he pointed down to the stone and then pointed to her. She cocked an eyebrow in confusion and asked the thing what it meant, but it shook its head and turned back to the snowy night for the third time.
She took the stone and held it close. As her fingers first touched it she felt a gentle warmth emerging from the stone itself. Something about the feeling of the smooth rock brought a feeling of ease to her heart. This thing, she did not leave on her bedside but kept on her at all times, sometimes slipped into her pocket or perhaps the folds of her shirt. She checked for it regularly and polished it even more so. The small rock almost glowed in deep violet and pink hues. In the sunlight, she discovered that it glittered. On one side of the perfectly round stone, she saw more of the same symbols etched in a small circle. She kept it beside her as she did her chores, ate dinner, and even as she read. Each cold morning as the fields were frozen over, she felt the stone radiating heat in her pocket and realized that with it, she could face the day with more certainty than she could without it. Something about the bitterly cold mornings got into the depths of her soul, and for a reason, she did not understand, the stone rid her of the worries she’d once had.
She continued about her business during the day and continued waiting up till dawn to see the small thing each night, but it didn’t return to her until that spring. That spring when she heard the ringing of the bell.
It had been a hard winter, her father had fallen ill and felt the lashes of cold more severely on his skin. She watched as he coughed and struggled with the ax for hours before her eldest brother took it and finished the work. By the time the snow had thawed, her brothers had become ill as well. Her father was a superstitious man, undoubtedly. He made sure to lock the doors and kick brooms down across the windows every evening so he didn’t wake up the next morning feeling like he’d been ridden by a hag. When the sun rose each day, Orlaith noticed that those brooms had been moved from the place they’d been put but she never asked about it. Better to keep silent curiosity than upset her father, that much she wasn’t willing to test. His superstitions, he believed, would heal her brothers. While her father had grown healthy again, he couldn’t expect to complete all of the work alone and he asked her to aid him with whatever she could. She obliged and begun bearing the weight of her brother’s chores along with her own, still with the stone beside her. She took the ax and swung it with ease. She helped her father move the seed bags and barely broke a sweat, she continued what was required of her and moved to the feeding trough to meet her father, who she found gasping for breath above the bucket of swill. There, as if it tried to endanger her, the Small Blue Something that had offered her such wonderful gifts returned. She feared testing her father, but quickly excused herself as the thing followed with a bright white feather, dipped in rich red blood.
The thing followed her to the barn, and as the sun set, she knelt beside Bridgid and continued the work that she had grown such an attachment to. Above her, it scampered on her back with the feather and the key to her grandfather’s lockbox. She watched it scrawl into Bridgid’s hide with the blood dipped feather. “They need you. You are in danger.” It wrote in her own tongue.
“Who needs me?” She pulled gently on Bridgid, who swatted at the Blue Something with her tail.
“They do.” He wrote, then pointed to the Monastery. “You don’t have time.” He looked down at the feather as the blood drained from the tip into Bridgid’s white side. She felt the call of the monastery on most nights, but so often ignored it. Instead, she drew, or read, or waited for the visitor in the night to bring her something new. Each day she grew more tired of her duties and more worried about her future. She closed her eyes briefly before she stood and faced the creature. Then, swiped it up into her hand and tucked it away in the folds of her shirt. She passed through the barn and towards the house where she nodded to her mother and made her way to her room. There, she collected her books and other belongings into her grandfather’s Cedar box and tied them together with the linen sheet. The thing bounced against her chest with each step she took and discarded the feather on the floor of the bedroom as she stepped out.
“Is this the right thing to do?” She asked it in a whisper as she stepped out, a knot slowly tied in her stomach. The Blue Something nodded up at her, its bright yellow eyes wiggled.
She tucked the bundle beneath the porch and moved to her mother. She could hardly believe her actions as she wrapped her hands around her dear, gentle mother and embraced her.
“I love you.” She whispered.
“I love you too, dear.” Her mother replied. A tear rolled as she stepped away and out towards the barn where her father laid against the large wooden doors.
“I love you, father.” She calmly stated before she approached and embraced him.
“I love you too, Orlaith. I hope you know how much I appreciate your help today.” He tried to smile through the heaving breaths that escaped him. She smiled in return. The knot in her stomach grew tighter.
“I shouldn’t be doing this.” She thought to herself as she put a hand on her beloved pet, Bridgid. She leaned close and whispered to the cow.
“I love you most of all. I’ll come back. I promise. I just need to see what is out there.” She snorted and poked her tongue out in response. She could feel something heavy in the air around them. It swelled as the sun drew nearer and nearer the mountaintop.
She peered out the barn doorway towards the monastery and looked into the growing darkness. A mile or two up the mountain there still rested a great pile of black stone and wood. Right in the center, something called out to her. Before, it sounded like the scholar who had come to visit and deliver such wonderful gifts from the outside world. As she stared, her father stood and made his way indoors. The Something tugged at her shirt and pointed, a dark grimace on its face as it looked towards the darkness of the barn. Something sounded from within, almost like a whine of one of the animals, maybe even Bridgid, though she’d never heard her make a noise like what she heard then. She turned back and faced the dark, where Bridgid whipped her tail violently against her sides, she watched the world beneath her begin to retch and groan as if there was something deep below that wanted her. The sound erupting from within the barn sounded like all the life she’d lived up until that moment screeching to a halt. She stepped away and remembered the books she’d read, the drawings she’d made and her memories of places she’d never been, then looked to the hillside where she saw, in unquestionable radiance… the ashy ruins of the Monastery glowing red with what she could only describe as vengeance. Then, without thinking so much as a memory, she took off running for her belongings…
Welcome to the Grimoire of Finality. I hope you’ve found yourself in good spirits today, it is the season of cheer, after all.
I’m excited you’re here today. This has been a project I’ve been cooking up for about three years now and I can’t wait to begin to unfurl it all before you. There is so much more to come and I am so excited for you to be a part of it. Mean for the Holidays 2020 is officially underway as of yesterday and if you missed any of what I released I’d love for you to take some time and go give it a quick look. It shouldn’t take but a few minutes of your time and it would bring me so much cheer. Until next time, I’ll be seeing you around. The Cult of Bone & Ash is something I’ve been working on for a while and it’s become pretty dear to my heart, but I want to make sure my beginnings with this project stay humble and safe and careful, all things that Miss Orlaith prides herself on being, but more on that later…
Not all things in this world are quite so cheerful, however, as you will soon come to discover from our precious Orlaith here. There are dark things outside your vision on the quiet evenings, the ones where no one is around. They’ve been watching you and I know you can feel them. I can feel them too.
Don’t be afraid.
Let them come
There will be no end to the screaming.
Thank you, for coming to hear a new story from the Otherwhere. This is only the beginning. I hope to see you back over the next few days until the end of this year. These are not only retellings of a world long ago. They are a recorded history, a warning for all of us. I am merely the vessel they are speaking through. I hope you share these warnings with as many as you can. The time is not long now. Do not be afraid of the shadows.
I’d love to hear from you on Social Media if you have it, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed thus far. I’ll be back with more.
Instagram || Twitter || Facebook
Salt + Iron Productions
See you soon.