Strange Truths – Glimmerlands 1

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Ok so I said that this time I was going to tell you the rest of the Oonagh and Tamlin tale, but I’m not, because getting round to that part took three pages in my Word doc, and let’s face it, this is a blog, you’re not going to read something longer than three pages in one entry.

I’ve decided that “Glimmerlands 1 chapter whatever” was too boring and I keep forgetting what number I’m up to, so I’m going to retitle all my chapters.

I’ve also decided that Fridays are going to be video days. I’ll probably decide a Glimmerlands day as well, because my scenes are sometimes really long and take a week to write. And then there’ll probably be something on Wednesdays too, either some crochet creation of mine or a drawing or something, or maybe a piece of writing that has nothing to do with the Glimmerlands saga, I don’t know yet. But there will be some sort of structure, I just have to work it out.

The elf called himself Aleth, and Stranger was surprised when he didn’t try to rape or kill him that first night. Such attempts were routine for humans, who either developed light sleep and quick reflexes, or perished. Stranger had agreed to sleep with the elf because he was almost certain he could kill him if he needed to, but Aleth had fallen asleep as soon as he’d hit the pillow, the last of his glamour evaporating so fast, Stranger wondered for a moment if he was dead.

Suspicious all the same, he had slept with an eye half-open – a trick he’d learned in Cat’s Court, as a guard, he remembered – but the elf had snored the whole night through, and insisted on accompanying him the next day.

Stranger disliked company on the road, because friendly or not, it usually distracted him from his litany, which he mustn’t forget, but Aleth had promised not to distract him.

It took him an hour to break his promise.

“What is it you’re muttering?”

Stranger raised an eyebrow. He was impressed the teller had managed to stay silent this long. Tellers were incorrigible gossips.

“Don’t stray from the path. Avoid nobles, soldiers, gatherings. Never be in Unseelie land during esbat. Keep your glamour on. Hide your iron.” He eyed the teller as he said this, and sure enough the elf started a little, but said nothing. “Cut up your food before you eat it. Drink only water that floats wood and sinks stone. Don’t trust anything.”

He stopped talking.

“That’s not all of it. Where’s the rest?”

What harm could there be in telling him? Stranger suddenly longed to tell someone. It would make the words more real. More sane.

“Remember Daisy. Find the gate.”

Aleth raised his eyebrows. “Who is Daisy?”

Stranger tried to conjure up her face in his mind. Blond curls, bright blue eyes, round rosy cheeks. She had looked like the rest of the children in his village. He couldn’t remember what made her different. Had she been the one with the freckles?

“My daughter,” he said.

“Ah,” said the teller. “I sympathise.”

“Do you now?” Stranger raised an eyebrow.

“I do,” said Aleth. “I have three wives and four children, each in a different corner of the Seelie court. I can never see them all at once, and rarely more than once a year. Actually, if I remember correctly, I might have five by now.”

“Only five?” Stranger smiled. “I thought tellers were the breeders of the earth, leaving a pregnant fae at each stop?”

Aleth laughed. “We are,” he said. “I said I have three wives; I never mentioned the lovers.”

Stranger frowned. “I’ve always wondered. Is marriage not a human thing?”

“‘Tis,” said the elf. “Which is why nobles and rich Seelie families do it. I’ve heard that Leanan Sidhe are known to indulge in it, too. Just because we hate you doesn’t mean we can’t copy your customs. Not that we need the excuse for a party, but marriage differentiates permanent and breeding partners to temporary ones and lovers.”

Stranger thought on that for a while as silence fell, then took up his litany once more. This time Aleth did not interrupt him, but hummed under his breath as they reached the end of the songgrass plains of the border and entered the Seelie land proper. Here you could see the sun, and as always, Stranger felt his heart lift at the sight of it, low on the horizon though it was. He wondered how the Unseelie managed, living in eternal darkness, with only the moon and stars to comfort them.

The path led them into a forest of softly chiming bell trees. Twisterthorns lurked beneath a sleepy carpet of bluebells and daffodils, trying to cover the path. Stranger stood on a couple of the spiked vines, and the rest retreated hastily.

“How do you do that?” Aleth asked.

“Iron in the soles.”

Aleth raised an eyebrow. He bit his finger with a sharp tooth and flicked a few drops of green blood to either side. The undergrowth heaved and writhed, then settled.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Stranger said.

Aleth shrugged. “Each their own way.”

Sure enough, the path remained clear. Offerings work better than punishment here, Stranger thought. As if even the twisterthorns were more honourable in the Seelie lands than across the border. He daren’t offer his own blood, though. Chances were the thorns would either reject it, turning on him in a rage at such a poor offering, or like it so much they would eat him. Honour only stretched so far in the Glimmerlands.

The surrounding twilight deepened as the day wore on. They dined on their feet – Stranger on dried hog meat, Aleth on nectar and berries. Stranger refused when he offered some.

“Ah, yes. Eat no fruit of the land of faerie lest ye be trapped there forever more.”

Stranger eyed him, surprised, and Aleth laughed. “We Tellers learn Cat’s tales too, you know. Though we are rarely asked to tell them.”

They walked on for a while more. The sun was no longer visible from the ground, and the bells on the trees slowed their chiming so that it sounded more like a lament.

“Looks like we’ll be camping out tonight,” Stranger finally admitted. The forest was usually shorter to get through, though the time could vary according to its mood. He had only had to camp in it once before.

Aleth produced a hammock from his sack and stretched it between two trees overreaching the path, biting his finger again and writing a strange symbol on the bark of both, murmuring all the while. The blood was absorbed into the tree before Stranger could try to memorise the symbol.

“What’s that?”

“An appeasement, to ask them to keep me safe.”

Stranger snorted. “And they listen?”

“With a blood offering, yes.”

Stranger eyed the trees, who were looking as innocent as a newborn catschild, and took out his own sleeping gear. It was a long, thick cloak with a padded hood for a pillow; useful for emergencies when you had no time to untangle yourself from your bedsheets and pack them away before fleeing. He sat it the middle of the path, took several rocks out of his pockets and laid them in a circle for a firepit. He turned to the edge of the path and said “Dead branch, lest I take a live one.”

The branch nearly beheaded him, landing in the middle of the path several feet away. Grumbling, he rose to fetch it.

Aleth chuckled. “You might have been better served had you asked instead of threatened.”

Stranger stared at him. “You mean to say that twisterthorns have manners?”

“No, of course not. They just expect you to have manners. You are, after all, in their territory.”

“They try to eat me every time I pass through!”

“Their territory,” Aleth repeated.

Stranger dragged the spiney branch back to the firepit, careful not to slice his skin on the hardened thorns. Twisterthorn grew hard after death, which made it dangerous to carry for the uninitiated, but it made very good fuel. Stranger set it down, arranged tinder and dried bell leaves around it, and took out his flint and steel.

Aleth gasped. “There’s iron in that!”

Stranger ignored him and lit the fire with a practised hand. He blew on it, and as it grew, salamanders, wyrms and other fire fae approached, feeding it and feeding on it. Stranger liked the salamanders. One passed repeatedly through his hands just slow enough to warm them without burning. He took out his hog’s meat and a pot and water, and heated them up to make a soup.

“You could put some herbs in that, at least,” said Aleth.

“Same problem as with the fruit.”

“Are you sure? I’ve heard of humans being stuck here after eating fruit, but never after eating herbs, and I should know.”

“I just don’t to take chances.”

Aleth jumped down from his hammock. He wasn’t lithe like most fairies, Stranger realised. He almost looked human, a lanky adolescent. If you ignored the pointed ears and extra knuckles. He forgot his glamour quite regularly, and had trouble controlling it when he remembered.

“Are you sure you’re an elf?” he said finally.

Aleth chuckled. “Quite certain. My parents were quite disappointed in me, though. They liked to look human, but not the kind of human I look.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventy-two,” said the elf proudly.

“That’s not all that old for an elf.”

“No, but it’s old enough for a teller.”

“I didn’t think tellers had such short life spans.”

“You know our reputation for repopulating the earth, don’t you? Did you think it came without consequences?”

Stranger laughed. “So you’ve managed not to be tracked down by any enraged husbands.”

Aleth laughed louder. “Oh! That’s a very human supposition. No, it is our children who come after us.”

“What for?”

“Why, for our stories. We Tellers are the only fae in the Glimmerlands capable of saying things that may not be true without consequence. Many fairy children conclude that we are therefore capable of lying. They want that power.”

“Is it true? That you’re capable of lying?”

“All fae are capable of lying, Stranger. We simply avoid it, because our words have such power that the more we say something, the truer it gets.”

“Why don’t fairies just lie all the time, then?”

“Because bending present reality to your will requires changing the past, and you can never know how that will turn out. The truth the lie turns into is rarely, if ever, the truth you wanted. You might even will yourself out of existence altogether.”

“What about you? You didn’t answer my question.”

Aleth smiled. “Tellers are no more capable of lying than other fae. But the tales we tell, we learn by heart, for the words are sacred and must never be changed. And most of them are set in a past so long-gone that to tell a lie that could change that past would be far beyond our powers.”

“Who decides what the words for a tale will be?”

“Namers used to, before naming was forbidden. Now there are story gatherers, who go out seeking tales from the people who have lived them and carefully committing their words to memory. Of course, if that person has forgotten or doesn’t know about some essential aspect of the story that changes the whole thing, the results might be catastrophic, so the gatherers try to get the point of view of everyone involved, but even then the truths they hear may be corrupted, especially if the one antagonist of the tale ends up dead, as is often the case.”

“So that tale you told me last night might not be entirely true?”

“As far as I know it is,” said Aleth. “That’s the beauty and the complixity of truth, you see. Everyone’s truth is different.” He poked at the fire with his Teller’s stick. The salamanders hissed at him. “Last night’s story was the last one told by a Namer before the ban. Would you like me to tell you the rest of it?”

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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Strange Truths – Glimmerlands 1 | TinderNews

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