The Yoke of Eternity

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain


Howl gets a strange feeling...

Chapter 5 (v.2) - The Pond

Submitted: March 10, 2019

Reads: 50

Comments: 2

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Submitted: March 10, 2019

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Chapter Five

The Pond

 

Tate was their accommodating driver. A sturdy, grey percheron easily pulled the wagon. The strong horse was well brushed, fed, and bred for a country horse. “The way I see it,” Tate said, “the faster I get ya there, the more money I’ve made.”

Eugene and “Howl” braced themselves on the bumpy ride as the wooden wheels sped along. Tate spoke to them over his shoulder, his straw hat casting a honeycomb shadow on his face. Eugene asked, “How do you figure that?”

“It’s simple! Just divide the number of days by the amount of money. I could get ye there in three days, which would make my earnings about, eh. Been a-while. Well less than two dinare a day. But I’ll get you there in two days, making myself three a day.”

“Two and a half,” Howl corrected under his breath.

“Eh?” Tate said.

Eugene laughed. “He said that’s some fine arithmetic, Tate!” Eugene seemed to questioned Howl’s rudeness with a glance. Then he asked the driver, “Where did you learn to do arithmetic like that?”

“Well, my brother’s a manager at one of the ol’ flour mills in Tillermill. He’s got a mind for numbers, and whenever he comes back teh see me in Nobay, he tries teh get me teh do some dividens, he calls it. Been tryin’ for fifteen years.”

“Tillermill?” Eugene asked with surprise. “Why, you might as well hop over the river once you drop us off at Laylind and go see him.”

“Eh. I went up there once, about ten years ago.”

“Didn’t quite like it?”

“Too loud,” Tate said with a grimace. “And busy. And my brother, he sure acts like a stiff up there. Heh. A stone is quite a bit of money for me, but he makes that in a day. Bought me fancy shoes, and a jacket. Paid to get my hair cut. Then offered to get me lessons on how to be a genleman. Offered me a job if I took’em. Well, I ain’t no genleman. Needless to say, I don’t visit him no more. But he’ll still come visit me after every harvest.”

“He doesn’t try to make you gentleman anymore?” Eugene asked.

“No, sir! He settled for just teachin’ me dividens. Said he wants to make sure I make enough with the farm in a year to take care of myself.”

Eugene said, “It seems to be working for you. That’s a fine horse you bought for yourself. Must have fetched a quality price.”

Tate remained silent. He gripped the reins tight and hung his head. Perhaps it was not he who bought the horse after all.

-------

That evening, they stopped in a clear place to rest for the night. Hauel declined the blanket that Tate offered to him. It smelled of old skin oil. “I will be warm enough without it,” Howl said.

Eugene leaned in to sidebar with Tate. “He has a magic cloak,” he quipped.

Tate squinted comedically. “Oh really? What’s it do? Make love to ya?” He burst in laughter and slapped his knee.

Eugene’s laugh was clearly forced. “Oh, that’s good, Tate! I don’t care what your brother says, you are fine gentleman! I can see you now with all the lords and ladies-”

“Yeah, with my cock hangin’ out, and my hand a’slapping the ladies’ b-hind!”

Eugene played along. “Why just the ladies?” he asked, and they both laughed as Howl observed their cultural idiocy.

Tate calmed and wiped his nose. “You two are mighty fine fellas,” he said. “I’d like to share with ya some high spirits.” He dug through a burlap sack in the cart. The commotion seemed amplified in the night, and Howl looked around into the darkness, wary of how much noise was being made. Years of training had taught him to limit noise and to be quiet in the night. He couldn’t shake the feeling that at any moment, his brothers and sisters would emerge with wooden swords and attempt to beat him to a pulp for some “impromptu training.”

Tate crawled back down with a tin bottle and a cup. He was hesitant. “Eh. Only got one cup,” he said.

Eugene said, “Oh. You needn’t worry! We can all share a cup, it is not a bother. Why, it’s not a bother all, is it Howl?” Howl glasred at him. Eugene returned a cocked head and insistant eyes. Howl said nothing, but Tate’s shoulders relaxed, and he smiled a smile that only a mother could love, missing teeth and all.

A small clearing with low, twisted trees amid the bushes offered enough space for them to sleep. The crickets were already out, and the sound of croaking frogs signaled that there was a pond nearby. It became cool, more so than it had been the previous few days, and Tate, being entirely unprepared for the unexpected journey, had only two blankets with him, a loaf of bread, and three chopine of distilled spirits.

Tate brought the bottle and cup to the clearing, followed by Eugene with the blankets and bread. Howl walked farther behind. Calling out from the back, Howl asked, “You do not have any water?”

“’Fraid not!” Tate said over his shoulder. “But who needs water when you’ve got a bottle ol’ Tate-Bait.” Even Eugene grimaced at that one. And yet, Howl did not understand why Eugene continued to encourage the man.

Eugene forced another laugh. “Clever!” he said with a twist in his face. “Did you come up with that yourself?”

“What can I say? I may not be able to count too good, but you can count on me to fall for this every time.”

They came to an area of dry grass, withered in loose soil. All three stood, staring at the ground. Tate asked, “Either of you boys know how to make a fire?”

Imbecile,” Howl said beneath his breath.

“Did ya say somethin’ Howl?” Tate asked.

“Yes. I said clear the area first. Move the grass and first layer of dirt from where we will be sleeping and eating.” The blue of the night illuminated Eugene’s face. “Eugene. Go find kindling and then fuel for the fire.” Howl headed into the woods.

“Eh, kindling?” Eugene asked.

Howl turned and held his hands slightly apart. “kindling.” Then farther apart, “Fuel.” He went into the woods, carrying a small, empty bag that he found in the back of the wagon. The light of the half-moon highlighted deer paths in the clear night. Tthe voices of the two idiots died, being lost in the distance of tangled branches and brush. He ducked under the low arms of the trees, fighting the urge to snap every one in his path. The sound of high-pitched croaks came near, and the ripe smell of stagnant water and soggy ground produced an acrid odor.

He pushed a branch aside, revealing the pond. A slight mist cryptically lifted off the still surface of the water. Almost indiscernible tiny waves rippled motionlessly across, faintly distorting the reflection of the stars above while the half-moon remained whole.

Howl, entranced by the strange reflections that dipped and danced, did not take his eyes off the water, and the longer that he stared, it seemed that the world in his periphery waved and turned black as the songs of the crickets and frogs softened to a velvety silence. Then all there was, was the moon, the stars, and perfect calm. With an eerie shiver crawling up the back of his neck, he could have sworn that there were two eyes watching him. He realized that his mind had drifted and pulled himself out of the daze. He looked about, but saw nothing, and only heard the crickets and frogs again.

He returned to a mostly clean area where his eccentric wagon driver had cleared a sleeping area. A pile of kindling, fuel, and a small pile of twigs and birch bark lay ready for him. Eugene jerked when he noticed the bulbous bag in Howl’s hand moving.

Howl held it up. “Dinner,” he said. He constructed a bow from a leather strap and limbs, ignighting a fire. The two others stared, impressed. “Your father never showed you how to do that?” he asked with purposeful cynicism. He squatted in front of the fire and added more sticks.

Tate replied, “Can’t say that he did. But he did show me how teh do this, though.” He held his tin bottle high over his head and poured the liquor straight into his mouth as it slapped the back of his throat. Eugene laughed and cheered, Tate took a bow.

Howl’s mouth went awry. “Esh grib tallos, kindarath kinothi saad idaama.” His native language came out like a curse, and though they could not understand the words, the Language of the Heart had a way of conveying meaning, regardless. All eyes rested on him.

Tate frowned. “You got somethin’ teh say, black eyes?” He stood as tall has his thin body would allow him, and he leaned forward with a false sense of intimidation.

Howl’s cheek spasmed. He added one more thick stick to the spurting fire, then put his hands on his knees for assistance and stood. They stared at each other. Just as Howl opened his mouth to speak, Eugene came and, smiling, tugged his arm.

“Hey, Howl. Why don’t you come and help me-” Howl slapped his hand away. “Ah! Just come over here so we can have a little-” Eugene grabbed his elbow again, only to be deflected once more. Each time Eugene put his hand on him, Howl swatted it away with efficient strikes. Eugene then took a step back, combed his hair with his fingers, and chewed his finger. “Ah. Hm, all right. No. Um, eh, no. Oh, it’s not right. Oh no, oh god.”

Howl watched him pace back and forth, biting his finger and combing his hair nervously. Eugene then turned and walked into the woods. Tate pointed his bony finger. “What’s wrong with that boy? Should I go get’em?” Tate staggered left and right, reeking of poorly crafted drink. He couldn’t find the fire if it burned him. Actually, it was burning him. His pant smoked next to the coals, just about ready to ignite. Howl looked him up and down.

“No,” Howl said. “I will bring him back. You just stay where you are. Don’t move.” He went into the trees, and only a few steps in, heard Tate cry out, with the sounds of his body rolling on the ground, trying to put out his ignited pants.

Howl found Eugene not far away. He was calm now, happy and looking up at the moon. Howl came beside him and looked up.

Eugene said, “I know he is a fool. But we need him. If you make him mad, then we will never make it there.”

Howl turned and said, “Laylind is walking distance from here.”

“I didn’t say Laylind. I mean that we will never make to wherever we are going. You know, ultimately. If you kill him, you’d probably get away with it. But everything would be, well, wrong.”

“I did not say that I wanted to kill him,” Howl said.

Eugene lowered his head. “Sure, you didn’t say it. But I know you want to. Just relax, Howl. The more attention that you draw to yourself, the harder this is going to be.”

Howl crossed his arms, “I am relaxed.”

Eugene turned and walked back toward the camp. He rolled his eyes, “Yes. I know.”

After finding Tate passed out with char on his leg, Eugene covered his burn with a cloth, and put a blanket over him while Howl watched and wondered why he was affording the idiot such kindness. They then lay down and allowed the little fire to burn out. The sack of frogs bulged, largely forgotten, or ignored.

The following morning, Howl woke just before sunrise, rebuilt the fire, and after finding some stray flint, carved the legs off the frogs and cooked them on natural skewers.

After some initial skepticism, Eugene was convinced to try the legs. Tate woke with cursing and he howled because of his throbbing head and his burnt leg. He never did calm down enough to eat, but said he’d sell his soul to Logos right there for a jug of water.

Naturally, Tate couldn’t drive his wagon, so Eugene volunteered to hop on the seat. Meanwhile, Howl and Tate sat across from each other with their arms folded. Howl was calm, reserved, and controlled in body and demeanor. Tate, on the other hand, sat with his shoulders hunched, and grimaced. His burnt leg stretched off to the side. He smacked his lips often, still in want of water.

Between smacks, Tate said, “You could have helped put the fire out.”

“You were intoxicated, and I was in the woods with Eugene,” Howl countered.

Tate’s frowned. “I don’t believe it.”

Howl said nothing.

The wagon strayed to either side of the road every now and then as Eugene seemed often distracted by his own thoughts.

A few hours in, the road smoothed enough for Tate to pass out again, breathing in quiet snores. Eugene entertained himself with casual humming of rather solemn tunes. Howl sat and watched the scenery as they passed the occasional forest and rocky outbursts on the ground. Eugene’s humming turned into a quiet, off-key song.

 

“Oh little blackbird, where did you go?

Did you fly to the sea, or fly to the snow?

Ask the farmer where he flew.

Have him check all over the fields.”

 

“Oh little blackbird, where did you go?

You know that we need you so.

Even ask the smith if you have to.

Who’s gonna save us from all this steel?”

“Oh, little blackbird, come on home.

The city’s gonna burn while you roam.

You could be our king, if you choose.

If you come back, we will bend and kneel.”

 

Oh, little blackbird, where did you go?

Did you fly to the sea, or fly to the snow?”

Howl said, “Queen.”

“What was that?” Eugene asked.

“I said queen. You could be our queen if you choose. Not him or he, her and she.

Eugene thought about it for a moment and hummed that part again to test it out. “Yes, I have heard that rendition before. King, queen, what does it matter?”

“Do you even know what that song is about, Eugene?”

The wagon navigated off course. “Gene, if you please. It is a lullaby, it doesn’t have to be about anything. Did your mother sing it to you as well?”

Hauel did not admit that she did. “The song is about a queen, Eugene, and how she ruled over a great city, and when she left them, they mourned losing her to the point that they were afraid their remarkable city would tear itself apart.”

“So it is from a, hm, a fairy-elf tale? Who is the blackbird, then?”

Howl’s eye twitched. “Not from a fairytale, it happened a very long time ago. It would surprise you how much truth there is to fairytales, and children’s rhymes.” Hauel was silent for a moment. “The blackbird is the queen, Eugene. Her name was Eden.”

Eugene looked over his shoulder. “Like the Church of Eden?”

Howl raised his eyebrow. “The what?”

“Where exactly are you from, Howl, that you haven’t heard of the Church of Eden? The main organization is out of Xandria, the capital of Decarian.” He looked back at Howl. “Decarian. Cast me to the void! I thought you were from Decarian, Howl! Howl, there is, eh, uh, mm, something quite wrong with you; you can bring a marshal to his knees in a second, but you don’t know Decarian?”

“Cease your talking and drive,” Howl said. Eugene dared to question his knowledge?

Eugene pressed his lips together. He shrugged, then turned back around and straightened the cart, chastising the horse for taking them off course again.

The rest of the ride was quiet until Tate woke up and tried to start some conversations. But when no one would offer more than a few words in response, he scowled again, and remained silent.



© Copyright 2019 C. S. Spence. All rights reserved.

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