Saturday, 6 October 2018

On the coming of a shadow in the night towards a fogged pane

Spilderhesten Peak rises regal from coastal waters, through a black spruce and winturpine coat towards cragged rock and snowfall crown. Sharp shadows fracture across the seaward face as the sun tumbles below the west and, come morning, the eastern light brings a particular crimson sheen to that mountain, as if it existed only in a dream long ago and half-forgotten. In this, the Spilderhesten is not unlike any of those innumerable peaks of the Eastern Sorvind Range. Here, however, similarities end. 

There is a shadow in the night. A mote of northern darkness that no moonlight will ever illuminate. A shadow that sounds of leather and wings. She comes down from that Spilderhesten, over the bay when she thinks no one is watching, but someone always is. 

This night, it is a mother of three, warm but for the one they took, who presses her face against fogging pane. Now that shadow comes over the water in place of the unreturned child. She gives herself freely to that dark presence, to dry wings and silent sound, sifting the halcyon memory of that summer through the approaching shadow like water through a sieve.

It was a cold summer that summer many years ago, when white clouds swept low, across the Nidarholm in that morning. The monks came down from the Abbey one by one until the hill was strung red and white with robes among dark trees. Below, the villagers in the Monkholmen raised bleary morning eyes through the fog. The brewer saw grim portents. The fishmonger’s mistress cried of the end times. The houndmaster knelt and wept and kissed his daughter on the forehead. The eider rook gazed across the bay towards that cold Spilderhesten.

As the sun began to slide down the slope of the sky, that houndmaster’s daughter looked back over her shoulder to see that dark hill of the Nidarholm across still water. The tide soon willed the low stone huts of her childhood from sight, until all was a single, shadowed mass in the spreading gloam. Ahead loomed that Spilderhesten, a crooked bird beakbent over the bay, growing large in the girl’s saucerplate eyes.

You see, the monks knew of that beast roosting atop that mountain, the one who gave a golden milk that smelled of wisteria and wax. They had built a nursery, an oblong structure of stone and thatch under the winturpine boughs where those now-orphans would live. And feed. And sleep. 

And, when those children woke to the first snows of winter, the monks gathered in redwhite cluster about feather beds. In that nursery on Spilderhesten slopes, they proclaimed their success with smiling faces. How the fall had changed those children. 

Across the bay, in the Monkholmen, the villagers awaited the forepromised return of their young ones, counting days as the leaves fell, one by one. When the eider-ducks left their rookery northward for warmer nights and longer days, patience turned to pleading. That brewer fatally accosted a monk down on the wharf and was put to death. That fishmonger’s wife gathered that houndmaster and eider rook and together they marched up the Nidarholm to the dark stave church to ask after their children. The redwhite hosts welcomed them, sat them near the hearth and fed them full of duckmeat and blanched potatoes. “Your children,” they said, “are never coming home.”

That fishmonger’s wife and eider rook descended the Nidarholm that evening and the expectant Monkholmen villagers met their blank gaze. The houndmaster never made it back down from that Nidarholm. Nobody asked where he went. 

Yes, there was a mob. Under the blanket of first snow — just as the children were waking from their slumber — Monkholmen’s finest and most broken emptied their wineskins and regrets until both sat, pooling, in empty stomachs. Footsteps in fresh snow. Crossing tracks. All leading up that Nidarholm. A red, smiling face greeted those footsteps at Abbey doors. That smile broadened. Those footsteps pivoted. By next morning, all was hidden in a fresh fall of snow. 

The snow stayed throughout the winter, bending the winturpines neatly to their knees. Through the long, dark winternight, that frozen Spilderhesten mocked the Monkholmen under northern sky. When the daylight lingered only minutes, a child was born by candlelight to that eider rook. He was named Beccor, first born. 

As the land thawed, the sun rose a new color over the Monkholmen. The children were mentioned only in whisper. When that fishmonger’s widow drank too much and took her sorrow out into the evening streets she was reminded of that brewer, of that houndmaster. Soon, too, she quieted.

The morning those eider-ducks returned, a small vessel crossed the bay from that Spilderhesten. As vessel neared shore, the Monkholmen thronged to the dock. Only that eider rook was absent, gone away south at the first sign of his charge. The monks, too, descended from the Nidarholm that morning, one by one, speckling the hillside red and white among those winturpine trees.

That craft carried only one monk in tattered red robes faded pink over a white barely distinguish
able. He laughed through cracked teeth as the villagers pulled him apart. His blood soaked that dock in crimson vengeance. Those eyes on the hillside watched the proceedings through to their bloody end before turning and climbing back up that Nidarholm, one by one.

No further word was ever heard from that Spilderhesten across the water. And none ever go there. Only the shadow in the night. Dry wings. Black on black. A mother of three, warm but for the one they took, presses her face against that fogging pane. She gazes deep into the shadow that comes across the water in place of that unreturned child. She wishes it so hard she can almost see . . 

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