Mist over the Fens - a Mixer's Night Story

Mist over the Fens -
A Mixer's Night Story

The mist over the Vémion Fens was cold and, and the night was drawing in. Young Llúwyn pulled his cloak tighter and hurried onward along the boggy path. He had only a few more minutes before the light failed altogether, and he wished to reach the Fenlander settlement before he was reduced to stumbling in the dark. He had already traveled several miles from Bévon manor, and he still had the return journey to manage.

Just as the grey light was turning to foggy blackness, he spotted the fires of the encampment. A hushed stillness lay over the huts, their leather doorways drawn tight to keep out the cloying damp and cold. As Llúwyn moved quietly passed the outer habitations, chinks of light winked out at him, and the low hum of conversation drifted through the night.

At last he reached his destination, a large dwelling near the centre of the encampment. He hesitated briefly at the door, and reached for the edge of the care-worn doorway. "Good even, Master Llúwyn", came a voice from within. "You are late… as usual!". The voice had a mirthful quality, and was answered by gentle round of chuckling. Llúwyn blushed, and hesitated yet again, before collecting himself, and pushing his way through the doorway.

He was instantly bathed in light and warmth from the central fire. The contrast dazzled him somewhat, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Around the fire sat three older persons. One, an older woman, rose and clasped Llúwyn’s forearm. "Come now, Llu, you know we’re only teasing thee", she said, with a voice that defied her age and looks. "Come in and warm yourself. Yálow – get the boy a drink". She shepherded the young man to a seat by the fire, and one of the men passed him a wooden tankard of warmed and spiced ale.

"We expected you before sundown, young Master", said the third member of the group, a greying man of indeterminate years. "Especially tonight", he added, his tone taking a sombre turn. Almétha looked quickly at the older man, and for a moment her face was clouded. "Hush now, Léthwyn. You’ll be giving the boy the frights. He’ll be well enough if he hurries back before moonrise".

Llúwyn downed his ale, and glanced around the dwelling. "I will be fine, Mistress. Do you have the package?", he asked.

Almétha nodded. She looked once more at the young man, his bright blue eyes contrasting with his dark hair and tan skin. He is growing up, she thought to herself. And she forced herself to smile. "There was a time when you were happy to sit and listen to us spin our tales, young Master. But you are nearly grown now, are you not? Soon you will be off, living with some great clan, learning to be a squire. You’ll have no time for folk such as us." There was a smile on her lips, but in her heart she felt a chilling sadness.

Llúwyn looked up. He looked around at the group, and nodded. "I know. I’m sorry if I seem short. Today was not a good day, and as you said, I should have been here hours ago." He glanced at Léthwyn. "And you are right. Tonight of all nights is not one I would wish to wander the Fens after dark."

A shadow passed over Almétha’s face, and it seemed as if the mirth that had filled the room as he entered was gone. "Then here is your package young Master." She handed him a buddle, and a rich aroma of many flavours swelled up. "This should cover all of the past month’s arrears".

"Now – take a lantern, and hurry back to the Manor". Almétha's manner was now curt and formal, in stark contrast to her earlier warmth.

Léthwyn rose, and reached for his cloak. "I will go with him as a far as the edge of the Fens".

Almétha reach out and grasped his wrist. "Leth…". Her voice caught in her throat, and she let his hand drop, and smiled faintly. "As you wish", she added softly, and turned away.

---

Léthwyn and the younger man threw on their warm cloaks, stowed the bundled over Llúwyn’s shoulder, and with quick goodbyes, hurried out into the night.

"Léthwyn will make sure he gets back", Yálow said in a hushed tone, speaking to Almétha’s back.

She stood silently, looking at the door through which the young man had just passed. Alémtha was still for a moment more.

"It is not the boy I am afraid for" she said.

---

The mist was thick and dank, and the light of the lantern hardly made a dent in the cloying night as the two figures hurried along the muddy path, splashing here and there in puddles and rivulets that crossed their way.

The older man drew up short, unexpectedly, and the younger nearly fell upon him. "Hold on boy." Léthwyn raised the lantern and looked about him, peering into the gloom. "Dam this mist! The path is run to nothing."

Llúwyn peered up at Léthwyn, his face lit by the faint glow of the lamp. "What do you mean? You know these Fens like your own hand."

"That I do", said the older man, "But this path is not the path to the Manor. We’d best turn back. You’ll not be going home tonight. That’s enough of wandering in this accursed mist."

They turned and began to retrace their steps. They made their way carefully, and as they moved a faint glow began to suffuse the mist.

"The moon is rising", Léthwyn muttered, but said no more.

Soon after he stopped once more. He lifted the lamp once more, and Llúwyn’s heart fell. He could see beyond the old man that the path disappeared into a wide pond, the dark smooth surface of which was cold with the reflected light on the slipping mists. There was no way forward.

"Now we must use all that we know of the Fens" Léthwyn whispered, as he crouched down and felt the waters. He shook his head and rose upon once more, look about. "This is ill, young Llu. These waters are quite still. We must find a flow, so that we can gauge our bearings."

Carefully once more, they made their way back the way they had come. Every few yards, Léthwyn would reach down into a pool or rivulet, seeking a direction of flow. But all the pools were dank as the breath of hell.

Suddenly, the older man seemed to disappear before Llúwyn. The was a great splash, and the light went out. Everything was suddenly completely dark. All Llúwyn could hear was cursing and splashing, and then as his eyes adjusted, he as much felt as saw the older man rise in front of him.

"Bog-mere" the old man sputtered, his teeth chattering with the cold. "And now the lantern is gone". For a moment they stood still, their cold breath adding to the teeming mists.

Then the boy reached out and drew off the old man’s cloak. "Here," he said, "take mine, Leth", passing his dry cloak to the soaking man of the Fens.

"We cannot tarry now", the shaking Léthwyn said. "This pool has a flow, in that direction, which means we must go this way", he said, gesturing off his right.

The boy looked out in that direction, and noticed a faint but sickly light seemed to glimmer through the mist. "Look", he said. "What can that be?".

"I know not", said Léthwyn, "But that is the direction we must go in any case".

They picked their way carefully through the mires, pools and bogs. As they did, the faint glow remained ahead of them, not seeming to grow brighter. At last they reached an open space, and the mist appear to clear somewhat. Dank ancient stones reared out of the mist before them, covered in moss and wet with the night dew. They had once, it seemed, held aloft a roof of stone, which now lay piled about the crumbling pillars.

Léthwyn shivered. "I know this place". He pointed to a nearby column. "See, boy, this is an ancient house of the Barren one".

By the light of the moon, between the scudding clouds and drifts of mist, they could make out figures graven in the careworn stone. Many inter-twining patterns lay around a large image of a bird. The bird was entwined by a serpent, but the head of the serpent lay between the beak of the bird.

Llúwyn peered forward at the images. "Leth – look. See here, a heron and a serpent. How strange – for the heron is the bird upon the crest of the arms of my clan."

He turned to see the old man’s response, and realised he was quite alone. Léthwyn was nowhere to be seen.

---

At first he was confounded. He called out Léthwyn’s name, at first quietly, but then more loudly, but the deadening silence of the marshy night seemed to swallow his calls. He searched through the ruins, but soon his voice was hoarse, and his skin grew cold. He knew it would be best if he did not wander off, but stayed where he had last seen the old man.

He sat beneath the stone image, and tried to rest, but he was fretful. Ever as he drifted into sleep, the cold damp would prod him back to wakefulness. Eventually he seemed to drift into a sleep of sorts. It was not a pleasant sleep. For it seemed to him that the very stones awoke and shifted. Images of a great bird, wading in the marsh, and nearby, a serpent moving cold and quiet, slithering silently in the dank waters. The bird, it seems to the boy, is hunting, as is the serpent. Indeed each seems to hunt the other. He wishes to cry out, to warn the bird, but it seems entranced, its white plumage reflecting the light of the moon on a dank mere. Ever closer draws the serpent.

---

He woke with a start. Some noise or other thing had disturbed him. All seemed still as before. The moon shone intermittently between scudding clouds and drifts of mist.

Suddenly, he saw or thought he saw, a movement, amongst the far stones. He gazed into the dark, but the shadows confounded him. He had begun to relax, when it seemed as if the shadows themselves began to move. He was gripped by a sudden fear that chilled him to the heart. For the shadows took on the shape and form of a great serpent, or so it seemed.

The boy could not move. His hands and limbs seemed frozen with the cold, and his heart raced with fear. The shadow moved towards him like a spreading pool of thickening blood. A breeze flicked the mist, the shadow wavered. Llúwyn suddenly felt calm and sharp, remembered the dagger at his hip.

Then the moon shone through the parting mist once more, and then, as if it were smoke, the shadow seemed to be there no more, and the boy’s numb limbs seemed to come to life. He reached for his dagger, and drew the cold blade. It felt heavy and yet small in his numb hands.

Llúwyn turned and the shadow was upon him. He felt its cold wet presence.

The Serpent! He lunged at it.

The shadow cried out as his blade struck it, and slumped to the ground.

Llúwyn stood stunned until a faint wind parted the mists and the light of the moon shone down on the floor of the ancient temple. At his feet lay Léthwyn, his blood oozing from a gaping wound. Llúwyn dropped the dagger which clattered on the stones.

"Leth! What have I done?" The boy dropped to his knees beside the dying man.

"Hush", croaked the old man. He reached up and put his fingers the boys’ lips. He wheezed and coughed, and blood splattered on his tunic. "You are not … to blame".

A further fit of coughing racked his body, and Llúwyn cradled the old man’s frozen, sodden form.

"Greater forces are at work. The Cycle Turns. The Heron takes the Serpent". The old man grabbed Llúwyn’s wrist. "You are both accursed and blessed young Master." He smiled weakly, pressed the young mans hand, and then his eyes drooped closed and he was still.

---

They found him the next day, amongst the ruins, cradling old Léthwyn’s body, shivering with a great chill. Without Mistress Almétha’s skill and care, such a chill might have been the death of him.

The Fenlanders did not speak of the night’s events to young Llúwyn’s clan. The death of Léthwyn was not mentioned, only that the young man had become lost in the Fens, and that they had found him cold and sickening the next day. Nor was any word said of the ruins, the graven images, or the old man’s last words.

But Llúwyn knew. He knew he had been chosen. Chosen by the Father of the Barren Cycle, on Mixers’ night. He was the Heron, just as Léthwyn had been the Serpent before him. His time would come, and the cycle would turn once more.


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