Welcome to a new week, welcome to chapter 3 - the whole chapter for it is a touch shorter than its previous two siblings.
I have made note for second draft (if this proceeds that far... ) to check for one dimensionality in Lord Fold, and for info dumping at the very start (to see if these crimes are actually so or just simply tricks of perception versus intent). That said, as you know from MBT, I have this tendency to write rather tightly from a character's point of view, we see the world much as they see it, we know what they know, we go where they go - seldom do I do third party, author omniscient cut-aways: not sure why that is - the "Sauron effect" maybe (= we never know what the antagonists are doing kind of thing...)?
Anyhoo, fascinated to know what you all make of this week's offering - keep the comments coming.
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
A Fear Faced
word ~ definition …………
The next morning – and two days after the first possibly threwdish encounter – Economous found himself once more at the gate of the weird park, peering uneasily into the shadows ahead, unsure to go ahead but loath to retreat and let another day pass pinched by indecision.
It was a strangely unsettled day, low heavy clouds an unbroken pale grey, blustering winds oddly warm and unable to decide whether they were easterly or northerly – blowing down from the vast threwdish grasslands that stood between the southern city-states and their Imperial capital.
For motivations Economous did not fully comprehend, it had seemed appropriate to him to come garbed as finely as his meagre resources allowed: his shirt, longshanks and trews new washed, his neckerchief freshly pressed and tied with a full and highly fashionable gather about his throat, his coat brushed thrice and picked clean of grime. Yet he was not about to stroll naïvely into this bosom of danger. In his hand he gripped his calibrator, grateful for the five years training he had had in bastinado arts, and at his hip swung salt-pouch holding several doses of bothersalts – tiny bags of smarting chemistry to hurl at any monstrous threat. Yet, with all this preparation, all his determination, he hesitated still upon the very brink of the Mouldwood. Some echo of an upstanding citizen within fretted that he really ought tell the rightful organs of civil wellbeing about his albeit brief and increasingly uncertain discovery.
How many folk had glimpsed this creature?
As threwdish as it might be, the Mouldwood must be visited by other souls – though Economous could recall seeing anyone else.
Economous let out a short bitter bark of a laugh.
What a hoot it would be! A city full of folk holding such a shocking secret and no one telling another it for fear.
If I do tell – came the immediate counter – what then if I am believed?
The Mouldwood would surely be burned, the scorch-dead land cleared and turned into a swarming suburb or a sweltering tanning district or some other teaming cradle of filth and enginry. He for one was not about to be the cause for such despoilment.
On either turn it was all conjecture; if he had not been able yet to bring himself to even tell his beautiful Asthetica of the monstrous encounter, there was little chance of his confessing it to some starchy city master.
Some subtle movement in the gloom focused his attention and he spied a lone rabbit emerge about two score and ten yards in among the exposed roots of an age-ed olive that reached up over the single path that led so perilously – so invitingly – into the city-bound wood. A rather large specimen brown of body and black of face and a drooping left ear, the rabbit appeared to stare boldly at Economous, almost daring the would-be fabulist to shake of his reluctance and enter the darksome park once more. Teeth Grit, Economous took one step and crossed the threshold from drab city bustle into hushed threwdish mystery, the very decision giving him momentum that took him directly to the crooked olive and its beastial watcher. As he drew close the hefty rabbit turned but rather than bounding away as Economous fully expected, it loped nonchalantly ahead with what seemed very much an attitude of haughty assurance – if a mere animal could possess such manners. Halting upon the path a little further in, it sat now to smuggly observe what its everyman guest would chose next.
What else could Economous do but follow?
Ears a-thump with rushing humours, feeling like his five-year-old self returning at last into the forbidden, forbidding hearthwood, he played the game of come-get-me with this self-important buck-rabbit, letting himself be drawn deeper and deeper until all he was aware of was the rhythm this slow, steady chase. Of a sudden, the rabbit sprang away. In a twinkling his guide was gone, breaking the fascination sharply and leaving Economous alone in this dim park, blinking like a man just waking from a long night’s slumber. Peering confusedly about, the would-be fabulist found himself much farther than he had ever ventured into the Mouldwood before, standing in a shallow dell surrounded by low olives and not a glimpse of an exiting path to be seen. All was hushed in this wooded gloom, no ringing of clatter of carriages nor faint but unmistakable cries of moll potnies, pamphlet sellers, posy hawkers, and begging songbirds, just the whoosh and gust of the fractious wind in olive boughs. The sensation of being in some isolated setting far from walls or streets or the safety of crowding people was no longer a trick of imagination but an abrupt and very present certainty. It seemed to him that the very trees ringing him about and the ground beneath knew that he was there, marked his presence and were not entirely pleased about it.
He had once thought the Mouldwood untamed, yet what he previously knew was its mere fringes; here he found himself in a veritable wildwood, the darkling trees encircled so tightly – so threateningly – the warm wind clattering and rushing in the boughs above, an ominous racket under heavy grey sky. With each disoriented step the unwelcoming watchfulness thickened, until Economous was glancing repeatedly over either shoulder and starting in fright at every twitch of branch or shadow.
Jumping at shadows…
So this all had just been a trick of rabbits after all.
Seeking to clear his overwraught mind with a violent shake of his head, the would-be fabulist regreted his descision to return to this blighted wood at all.
Think, man, think!
Though the sun was hidden fully behind the day’s dull vaporous blanket, he had a notion of finding his way out by the guide of the compass moss spread up and down many trunks. Even an ill-attentive nilyard – metrician-prentice – such as he had once been remembered well enough that such growth was to be found only on the southern side of a tree. Yet, at first inspection, every trunk seemed completely arrayed – south, north, east and west – in shaggy grey or scaly yellow. Flinging his hands up in frustration, Economous turned completely about and in the very midst of this action caught a hint carried on the boisterous wind of what might have been …
Unsure, his head cocked against the blusters to hear better, stepping forward to follow this tenuous hint. The threwd almost throbbing at every hand, the hint resolved into a queer kind of strumming, plucking music, ringing out from the very midst of the trees.
Perhaps it is someone playing from their house on the farther side?
With every stride the sublime melody filled him, setting the fine sympathies of his creative acuity ringing, drawing him into its charm. Economous quickly found his soul thrumming in sympathy, a-tremble with an ache for a lost beauty he had never known existed. His extremities to tingling, he found himself weeping that such wondrous splendour was now no more, then felt a lift of hope as he found in the melody itself both an expression and a fulfilment of a great urgency to keep even some tiny fragment of that impossible primordial innocence alive.
Oh, such soaring marvels of ecstatic enchantment!
Was it happiness?
Was it sadness?
Was it a kind of pain?
More than anything, he wanted to be at the source of that music, to behold for himself the author of such inexplicable wonder.
Then, all too quickly, the ancient soul-invading melody ceased.
“NO!” Economous could not help but cry out his dismay.
Bereft, he stumbled on, desperate now to dwell once again and forever more in that sonorous place of memory and warmth and a clear soul. Sobbing, staggering headlong, he tripped upon some obscured obstacle and collasped hands and knees to damp cool weeds, his hat all that he carried flying from him in his fall. Jarred back to something like proper sense, Economous sat back on his haunches, shamefacedly wiping the tears from cheek and jowl. Reaching out to collect his accoutrements he began to make out a more general brightness to his right, through the dim twilight. Putting his tricorn back atop his head, he clambered to his feet and went immediately for this glowing clarity, dodging about haphazard trunks and stumbling on warrenholes or crooked roots unseen in the wild grasses.
The diffusion of light proved to be a glade, a stark cavity amongst the thickness of trees in which stood a circular house on a high foundation – an ancient ruined variety of the rounded bottomholms still built by the long-conquered Pilts out in sokelands of about Lo – its mouldering bricks fallen about its feet in weed-grown piles, its windows gaping cavities. The once high-pitched roof was collapsed and gone, its several crude chimnies half toppled and sprouting yellow soursobs and purple sweetjane from their crumbling mortar. Leaves rattling and hissing in the wind, an enormous elderly olive grew from the very midst of the ruin, its venerable beams spreading wide over the crooked rim and making a new roof to shelter it.
The watchfulness felt heaviest here, though perhaps a mite less unfriendly.
The building was so decayed that the nearest side of its great foundation had tumbled open to reveal the undercrofts within. Glory-vine was spread over the cavity, its leaves glaring crimson despite the lateness of the year and among the bright unseasonal colour, Economous spied the buck-rabbit sitting easy as if it had been waiting there for him all along. It seemed to be regarding the would-be fabulist in reproach – if such an expression was possible in a dumb animal. Unfoundedly certain that this precocious creature would ken where the beautiful, all-conquering music had gone, Economous approached the fallen down house, that unmanning desire for the intoxicating melody rising all-too-quickly again in his bosom. Clambering to the gap he entered willingly into the the cellar gloom, the rabbit retreating before him, its coal-black eyes twinkling with a mischievous gleam from the shadows of the undercroft proper. His yearning for the return of primal melody compelling him on, he followed his fractious guide deeper, ducking his head beneath the low curve of a dark tunnel like passage that deposited him in an ill-lit cavity that must have been in the very midst of the roundhouse. Here was the basal trunk of the elderly olive tree, creaking and groaning in the wind, the wild rattling of its arid, gust-torn leaves echoing and re-echoing down into cavity until it was like a hissing clattering thunder.
Somewhere the dull distant ringing of a noonday bell came with the wind, tolling into Economous’ awareness, breaking the enthralment, leaving him bereft but sensible now to the threwd pressing in on him like an ache in his head. Something else was here with him, something much greater than any over-sized buck-rabbit, something sitting oh so very still between ancient roots in the shadowy bole of the olive.
“What is a womb-born doing so deep inside my borders?” a rasping deep voice spoke, coming as from all about Economous, its question like an inquiry made to the entire cosmos.
Though he had heard it but once before, the would-be fabulist knew this voice instantly: for it was surely the rabbit-and-cat creature!
By an instinct – unsteadily though it might have been – formed from four years of unceasing practice, Economous brandished his calibrator and shifted his feet reflexively to the first defensive stance.
The shade stirred. “You will not be needing sticks nor the fine tricks that go with their wielding, young everyman,” the sonorous voice crooned from one corner or another, from above and from below.
Transfixed between terror and the need to know, to properly and fully see, Economous watched eyes wide as the shade silently stood – or more truly, unfolded. Getting taller and taller still as it unbent, until it finally rose erect, towering over him on long slender shanks bent awkwardly like a rabbit’s, and ending in feet of downy rabbit’s paws. Great ears upon his head – rabbits ears, he realised, but surely two foot or more in length themselves – made it more enormous still. To Economous’ astonishment, it wore a frock-coat of rich glistening indigo – such an expanse of cloth that could have garbbed Economous three times over – embroidered on its cuffs and at its hems with curling frolicking rabbits in golden thread. He knew well enough that monsters sometimes stole and dressed in clothes, but to actually see something so alien and bestial dressed as fine as any aristocratic soul of the city was disturbing, incongruous and charming in one.
The blustering element chose its own moment to bring drama to the meeting, clouds splitting for a moment to let warm spring light upon the countenance of the monstrous thing. The face was more terrible and even more cat-like than first impressions told, the pale eyes narrowed and feline and fixing him with a sharp, shrewd gaze.
“Well-a-do, brave everyman,” it declare in that low rasping, “I am the Lapinduce, the Duke of Rabbits, true lord and master of this city.”