Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chapter 2: The Cleansing River

Previously: Chapter 1: The Watching Woods

Emilie sat bolt upright, her chest heaving and bathed in sweat. For a moment, she wasn't sure where she was, but as she struggled to bring her breathing under control, she took in her surroundings. She reached out for her dagger and it was right where she left it, which calmed her down somewhat. The dream-images were already fading from her mind's eye, but they still terrified her in their vividness. She instinctively looked at her hands, expecting to see them covered in red-black blood, but she only saw sweat.

She pushed the dream away and began her morning routine, but her tide of her thoughts continued to be washed over by what she saw, heard, and felt. She knew she could only speak to Elder Khaman about her dream, not only because of his warning that morning months ago, but because she felt that he would take her seriously and provide the best insight.

Emilie grabbed some dried deer meat and some bitter-root, onions, and wild carrots, along with an assortment of her favorite herbs. She was relieved to see the sky was overcast, so it wouldn't be too cold today. All the same, she pulled on her warmest boots and mittens, just in case the weather turned colder. She stepped out into the morning light and took a deep breath, the frigid air shaking out the last of the night's cobwebs from her brain. Quietly, while the rest of her tribe were slowly waking up, she slipped out into the woods, heading for the river.

In some ways, Emilie felt more at home in the woods than in the village. The ancient trees seemed to embrace her, protecting her, and she in turn shared her life force with the forest. She ran her hand along the rough bark of each tree as she passed by, taking a moment to wonder at what history coursed just beneath its surface. With every step, the still-quiet of the forest was slowly drowned-out by the roar of the river until she finally stepped out beyond the tree line.

The raw power of the white water overwhelmed her for a moment, a moment that she savored. Carefully, she made her way to the edge of the shoreline, removed her mittens, and dipped her warm hands into the icy cold current. The shock of the cold water was brief, but exhilarating and she could feel the raw power of the river as rushed past her hands. Suddenly, she splashed the ice-cold water from her hands into her face and the shock sent her reeling into the present moment as the rivulets of ice water poured from her face, down her neck, and warmed to the heat of her skin.

She returned to the safety of the shoreline, sat against a snow-covered stone, and fell into a deep meditative trance. She became part of the landscape, and in turn, the land embraced her. She listened to everything around her and she watched, taking it all in. In that moment, she dwelled with the powers of the earth.

It was at that moment that she felt something new, something that seemed out of place. There was a tremor that coursed through the earth, jostling her from her trance. Looking up the trees, she saw an impossibly large shadow that danced between the branches and trunks. She peered past the boulder and saw it  emerge from the trees on the opposite shore. The ancient boughs cracked and broke, splintering into thousands of shards of ice and wood beneath its monstrous hands as it parted them and then stepped out onto the shore, sending stone, wood, and water flying in all directions.

The Frost Giant took a moment to look up and down the river, its eyes squinting in the bright light of morning. Emilie watched in fear and fascination as river water gushed through its fingers as it lifted its cupped hands up and splashed the water over its head. The Frost Giant shook its head, sending a torrent of snow and water in all directions. It reached down to a huge boulder so that it could sit by the raging waters. Emilie noticed that it only took a few seconds before the boulder was covered in frost, making it look like an enormous snow-throne supporting the giant's back.

Emilie took all this in while she watched and listened. She knew she should flee to the safety of the village, but she could not take her eyes off this enormous creature. The very few times she saw a Jotun, it was raging and bellowing, filled with hate and sowing destruction. But now, this Jotun seemed peaceful, quiet, even gentle in its own way. Emilie scanned the open space between herself, the rampaging river, the reposing giant, and the safety of the woods: there was no way she could move from her spot and not be seen by the behemoth. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing so that her fear did not cloud her thoughts quite so much.

When she opened them again, she witnessed worlds colliding, breaking down the fabric of all that she thought she understood. Her knees buckled and she grabbed wildly at the stone she hid behind for purchase, but the slickness of the stone betrayed her and she fell painfully down to the hard ground. All the while, she never took her eyes away from what she saw, just in case it disappeared from sight and she would need to contend with the idea that she had gone mad.

Sitting cross-legged in the snow, not ten feet from the Frost Giant, was Elder Khaman. In his left hand was his staff, leaning across his shoulder. In his right hand was the leg of a deer wrapped in cloth. This deer leg had enough meat on it to feed a family in their tribe for a week, but he held out to the Frost Giant and waited. The Frost Giant gently took the deer leg and set it between them.

At first, it seemed like the two of them simply stared at each other. Sometimes Khaman gestured with his staff and the Frost Giant shifted and traced shapes in the snow with its hands, but it didn't get up, nor did it move towards Elder Khaman. Both continued to sit 10 feet from each other as the trees swayed and the white water rushed. The river made so much noise that it took some time before the full weight of what was happening crashed through Emilie's consciousness.

They were talking.

Next: Chapter 3: The Secret

Creative Commons License
This work by John David Hickey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.johndavidhickey.ca.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chapter 1: The Watching Woods

This story is based on events that took place at the Northern Lights Gathering festival in February 2012. My thanks to the organizers of that festival for being so inspired and inspirational.

They called her the Wolf Girl, which sounds like a compliment, but it wasn't really. Emilie was still and shy like the wolf who slides effortlessly through the trees, blending between the snow white and bark brown, but her eyes took you all in. She watched and she listened. It was her way, but it made the other children nervous, and nervous children will tease and taunt. That was their way, too.

Emilie pulled her hat down over her ears and tightened her scarf as she strained to hear what Elder Khaman was saying over the chilled winter air. It was the season of the the Games when a champion would be selected from the best of the tribe and the village pups crowded around him, eager to gain favor and maybe learn a trick that would give them an edge over the others. Ellie watched and listened, but she never competed. It always made her feel too exposed, too vulnerable. But still, she knew that Elder Khaman had much to share, so she listened.

Elder Khaman was recounting the tales of Games gone by. He had faced many winters already, roaring in the morning stillness to keep the Frost Giants at bay. He had even faced the chilling presence of the Frost Giants on more than a few occasions and lived to tell the tale, which he reveled in now around the morning fire.

" Emilie!" he called out. Elder Khaman never called her Wolf Girl, although the other children were already whispering her name. "Come and join us by the fire. You are always welcome."

"That would mean she would actually do something," sneered Phoenix. He was highly regarded as the best and brightest among the young warriors. The people were already placing bets over how he would do in this year's Games. "Let the Wolf Girl hide behind her hat so that we can keep the Frost Giants from disturbing her sleep."  Emilie's face flushed, her rage barely contained. She turned to walk away when Khaman voice cut through the wind like a blade shattering ice.

"Every member of this tribe is important, vital to its survival,"  Elder Khaman roared. "It may not be  Emilie's way to toss the spear or run barefoot in the snow, but I've seen many of you beg her for the herbs that keeps the rattle out of your lungs when the winter chill settles in your bones, so she deserves your respect."

His voice softened and stretched out his hand. "Please  Emilie... join us. The Jotun are always watching and we are always stronger as a tribe than we are alone."

Suddenly, Khaman stiffened, his eyes darted as he scanned the trees. Emilie felt it too: her stomach tightened and her feet tingled, wanting to flee. Khaman gestured to the others to stay by the fire and his heavy feet cracked through the crust as he strode past  Emilie, facing the trees. She could no longer see the snowy foundation of the forest floor, but she peered out past the shaman's furs as he stretched out his arms and whispered in a language she did not know. Perhaps it was the magical language of shamans that keep the tribe safe, perhaps he was appealing to the generous nature of the forest spirits, requesting protection.  Emilie tried to see what hid itself behind the wooden wall of frost-covered trees, and although she saw nothing, she could feel eyes upon her. She clutched his robes ever-tighter.

"Back to the fire, young-one," whispered Khaman firmly. "Do not speak of what you have seen today, if anything. Watch, listen, but speak only to me if you have anything to say."

Emilie gathered up her courage and turned her back on the woods, even though she could still feel a gaze upon her. The fire warmed her skin, but her thoughts were still troubled and sent shivers through her composure.

Chapter 2: The Cleansing River

Creative Commons License
This work by John David Hickey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.johndavidhickey.ca.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oinklets Three Be a Classical Intellectual Feast

Just in case you ever wondered if Fairy Tales could ever be intellectually or literarily challenging.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Grieving the Loss of a Beloved Pet

Whenever I have a friend who loses a beloved pet, I copy/past this story to them. When I lost my cat Dinger a few years ago, this story brought me much comfort.
The Rainbow Bridge
- Author Unknown

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lex & the Devil: a Rockstar Moment

Last weekend, I was hosting a fundraiser where we had magicians, musicians, dancers, singers, and storytellers. Happily, my friend Scarlet recorded TaelStrum's telling of Lex & the Devil.

My favorite moment occurs at 4:50 when I get my Rock Star experience where I realize the crowd is telling the story with me, so I go quiet and let them say it as a group. It was golden.

Copyright© 2010 John David Hickey