At the end of his first day on the road, it occurred to him that he should have gone to Thorodon’s father, who had many maps. He did remember studying the maps some time ago and finding Tol-in-Gaurhoth on one of them. It was roughly a hundred miles and some-odd miles away, and Celirwen’s house was close by. He remembered a white stone structure with marble columns and rather dark windows in a glade very near a dark forest. And a high wall around the garden in back. He could remember being forbidden to go into it, and of course his curiosity had been aroused. And so he had slipped out of the house when Celirwen’s back was turned and done everything he could to try to get into that garden, since the doors into it were kept locked. Climbed a tree to try to see over the wall, but it was so far back, all he had managed to see was the top of some dark trees and a few bushes that looked pretty unremarkable to him. He wondered what all the fuss was about, and was about to climb down when a strange sound met his ears. It was some sort of music or singing, as far as he could make out, yet he could see no one in the garden at all. And a nameless dread stole over him and the first thing he knew, he had fallen from the tree, and was lying on his back looking up. He was not hurt, merely winded, but he saw his nurse running toward him, and she did not look at all happy, and not long after that, they were moved to the house in which he now lived. Celirwen came out from time to time, and she sometimes brought him a gift, but mostly she talked to the nurse. And after a while, she stopped coming out altogether, and shortly thereafter, his mother showed up….
He had asked the nurse about the garden, but she was evasive, and later when he asked his mother, she said it was full of “witchy” plants, but exactly what sort these were, she did not care to say.
“There are some things in this world ’tis better not to wonder too much over,” she told him, when he insisted on plying her with questions. But he would wonder. It was just how he was. He wondered over the dark things of the night, the ancient secrets of the earth, the phantoms of his own mind. Why it was that sometimes in the night, he would go over to his window and look out, and wonder what was on the other side of the sky, and why his father kept his face hidden, and what monstrous things came to pass in the furtive realms of his obsessions.
And why it was he took no interest in his own son.
Gaergath gave little thought to his future. Even though he often thought of the world outside and wondered about it, and contemplated going out and living a life of adventures, he did not think overmuch about how he would make his way in the world. He enjoyed his life as it was, living with his mother, his lessons with her, working about the place, being with his friends, going into the village where a certain lass would sometimes give him a friendly smile in passing…not that she was the only one, but she was by far the fairest, with yellow wavy hair--she was the only lass he had ever seen with yellow hair. And saucy blue eyes, and a figure abounding in sweet curves and a graceful hitching sway in all its motions. He had yet to speak to her; from what he had heard, her father and brother were most protective, and a formidable obstacle indeed. He was not sure what he was supposed to do if he did meet her, anyway. Marry her? He was too young for that, did not feel ready. He could think of many things he would have liked to do with her, but was not sure how one went about such, and if he were caught, it would be all up with him, surely. Still, if he did not speak to her soon, someone else would beat him to it, without a doubt. Likely Thorodon had eyes for her as well….
Now, as he rode along on his second day, he supposed he would not see her again.
The life of adventure he had dreamt of was about to begin. And now he would give anything to go back to the previous one.
By the end of the second day he had no doubt he was lost.
Then he spied a little farmhouse in the distance, and decided he had no choice but to go ask someone where he was.
The occupants were an elderly man and his largely deaf wife, who provided him with a hot meal and let him sit before the fireplace. Gaergath told them he had set out in search of his mother, whom he believed to have been abducted by her sister, an evil witch who coveted her secrets. He wondered if the tale would be too far fetched for the couple, but as he spoke he saw a look of fear flicker over the old farmer’s kindly face.
“I’ve heard tell,” he said, “of a place where a sorceress dwells…not seen it myself, but I’ve heard tell. They say the place has a blasted appearance, no trees near, no grass, no flowers…naught but a high wall all around the back, about an acre or so, and trees can be seen within…but not without. Once there was trees, they say. But some years ago, they all withered and died. No birds sing, no creature goes near, save for bats. There’s a silence about the place, as though no one lives therein. Yet, some say they’ve heard sounds from it in the night, and those that have gone near the wall, say they’ve heard voices, not like any ever heard of man, woman or child. A music that’s like no other, a music not to be withstood nor listened to at any length, lest it cause madness. Some say…” The old farmer leaned closer to the boy’s ear, although there was no need for it, his wife being scarcely able to hear a normal tone of voice, and she was in the next room at the moment. “Some say, ‘tis the dwelling of She of the Black Cloak. Her name might not be spoken, lest it bring her out of the Shadow, and into your own space and heart, never to leave again. Ye’d do best to stay as clear as possible from that place, my lad.”
“But what if she has my mother?” Gaergath said, despite the terrified leap his heart made in his breast. “My mother had a magic of her own. It was a good sort, which healed and brought forth beautiful and wholesome things. A neighbor’s cow wouldn’t give milk, and my mother visited her. I don’t know what she did, but afterward those neighbors never went without milk again. And someone’s hen wouldn’t lay, and after my mother visited her, well, they had all the eggs they could use. The vegetables in our garden are the best all around, and folks who buy them say they are far healthier and stronger for having eaten them. I think this…woman…wanted her secrets, and came and took her away while I was out hunting with my friends. She might be tormenting her this minute. I must go out and save her if I can.”
As he spoke, a breath of hope stirred within him, that what he said might be the truth after all.
“You’re a brave lad,” the old farmer said. “But if you were to go there…Had you no one else to take you there? Someone older, stronger?”
“Nay, no one,” Gaergath said. “Just my mother and I, that’s all there are. If I’ve lost her, I have no one else.”
The couple let him stay overnight, in the room where their son used to sleep before he married and moved out. In the morning they fed him and his horse once more, then the old man once more tried to dissuade him from his task.
But Gaergath was not the dissuadable sort.
As he was taking his leave, the farmer said, “If you should wish to turn back, then you might come here and stay with us. Old folks like the wife and me could use a strong, brave lad like you to help out on the farm. Our son has his own family, and we can’t depend so much on him. And our hired man had an accident and left us a month ago, and he hasn't been replaced.”
“I may,” Gaergath said more brusquely than he meant to. And went on his fearful way into a morning fog.
It grew thicker as he rode along, and he grew more and more afraid, and more tempted to turn back. There seemed something malevolent about it, obscuring the path before him and behind, and Russandol seemed uneasy also.
“We must be getting closer,” Gaergath said to the horse. “I wish we could see where we’re going. Maybe this dratted fog will lift by noontime, and we can go on. Would that I had a cloak like hers, and could fly above it!”
And then he remembered what the old farmer had said. What if he were to speak her name? Not her given name, which he’d spoken before, but the name she was called in her legend.
He sat motionless for he knew not how long, just looking out at the grey-white, cold drifting fog. No, if he were to speak her name in the daytime, she would not come out, for she slept then…according to her legend. It was only at night that it would fetch her…or was it?
And if he did bring her…then what? Her name might not be spoken, lest it bring her out of the Shadow, and into your own space and heart, never to leave again.
He shuddered. Dared he risk it? What if she took up residence in the vicinity of his being? Would he become like her?
The fog, instead of lifting, seemed to grow heavier with each passing moment.
It felt as if it would never clear again. And he was sure he had lost the road, and would never find her house on his own.
Would she drink his blood? Would she turn him into one of her kind?
There are some things in this world ’tis better not to wonder too much over…
He drew his cloak about him, shivering uncontrollably. There was no going back, he realized. Now or ever.
Thuringwethil, he whispered into the impenetrable milky web all around him.