©2021 Michael Raven
Normal caveats apply here: Published with minimal edits and revision. Totally draft (and, likely, daft). I'm unapologetic about that. May contain errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, logic. This is more an exploration than finished piece. A "study" of approximately 1000 words.
These are the foglands, the mistlands, he thought, walking towards diffuse lights that might be towns, wraiths, will-o-wisps or swamp gas. There was no purpose to the thought. It rose like that swamp gas, formed a bubble of thought and burst, and nothing remained of the thought after it flashed though his brain, escaping to the ether. He wearied, and it took too much to think much of anything more than putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on forward momentum deeper, so very much deeper into the turgid wetness of the moor, the roughshod earth, the shadows and shapes moving in the eternal twilight.
It was this or… death. And he wasn’t ready to die yet — or so he told himself when he still had the energy, the capacity to think.
The hunters pursued still. He’d not heard the wolves for a long time. How long? Oh, time had no meaning in these lands. No sun, no moon. But it had been a while, if one could divine time from forgotten heartbeats pounding in his chest. But not long enough. The old man, the Fisher King, they called him with chuckles and laughter, in that shithole town at the edge of the mists.
It was obvious inbreeding had gone on in that town named Daylight, which would have been a laughable name for that mire-clotted and rotting collection of shanties. It may have been named thus because it was the last sign of day (or the first) one saw in the mists. Had to be. But there were signs that the town needed new stock, but couldn’t be bothered to inject new blood — the sloping foreheads, slow wit and frog-like features were all he needed to know that place had grown decadent with the infrequent contact with the larger world. They knew little, but the Fisher King, a man not from their little cesspool, but an immigrant from the mists, he knew, they said, and they chuckled behind filthy hands as they said his name, though it wasn’t clear why.
Lan had expected the man to have crowned himself, wear battered robes, or something to give himself the appearance of royalty. Instead, he encountered a half-mad man, bare-chested and wearing the rags of a makeshift loincloth hobbling along the thickening perimeter of the moving shades and suggestions of shape cloaked in white just beyond his cabin. He carried a feather-tipped lance and lowered it upon Lan’s approach, but quickly raised it upon recognizing a fellow human.
“You’re hunted,” he said, inflectionless and dead.
The Fisher King tilted the lance towards the swirling clouds floating over the moors. “That’s your sanctuary,” he said without emotion, “Though you might wish you’d let the wolves bring you to ground before you find the succor you seek.”
“I have no choice. I made a promise…”
“What? To live? Break that oath, let the wolves have you. You’ll thank me as they rip out your throat.”
“I may, at that. But I’m no oath breaker. Tell me — what can I expect?”
The Fisher King considered, eyes drifting to the fog and then the ground by his bare, muddied feet.
“And? And you’ll walk until your legs give out, and then you crawl until you knees give way, and then you’ll claw with fingers bloody from scrabbling at stone as you pull yourself ever further into Her lands. And… If you’re very lucky, She will find you before you turn to a corpse, then bone, then ash. If she doesn’t want to find you, you will not find her.”
The Fisher King grunted and turned away.
“How far, dammit — my time runs short and I need to know how far before the wol–“
“As far as you need to, dammit!” Fire burned in the Fisher King’s eyes now, a suppressed anger rising molten to the surface. “And it will still not be enough! Did you not hear me? If She doesn’t want to find you, you… will… not… find… Her… Give yourselves to the wolves, boy. You’ll thank me as you breathe your last.”
Lan sighed. “Which way. then?”
The Fisher King mirrored the sigh and calmed, stony once again. He waved his hand in the general direction of the mists. “Take your pick. All paths lead to Her. If she wants. Walk until the wolves howl no more, then walk more, and when you cannot wal–“
“I know,” interrupted Lan. “Knees, then fingers, then waiting for Her to decide to find me. If She wants to find me.”
“That sums it up, yes.”
“And I’ll know I am close when I can no longer hear my pursuers?”
“You’ll know nothing of the sort. But you’ll be closer than the wolves, and they will not hunt you if they’ve lost your scent, and that’s all that matters.”
“Thank you,” Lon said, though he’d not learned as much as he’d hoped and didn’t think it would be useful.
“Don’t thank me,” Fisher King said and returned to his patrols of the mists outside his home.
And now, Lan felt gravity pulling him to his knees these aeons later and he decided it was time to surrender and so he fell, though not as gracefully as he’d intended upon making that decision. He realized, then, that the Fisher King had been right. Lan would be forced to crawl and he wasn’t sure he could do even that much, so he kneeled there for a spell, considering if he should lay down, knowing he’d not rise again if he did.
Instead he listened for the wolves as he had for as long as he could recall. When had he last heard them? How many heartbeats? How many breaths ago?
He closed his eyes, just to rest them, mind you. When he opened them once more his face was against the broken granite carpet, the mists forming tendrils and snatching at his jerkin, his trousers, his… it didn’t matter. He didn’t care.
Then — a boot-clad foot.
“Well, what have we here?” She asked, towering above him.
Lan smiled and let his eyes close. She had found him he thought. And if it wasn’t Her… well… he didn’t care anymore. He fell back to sleep.
The woman leaned over, picked him up effortlessly and carried him away from the place she’d found him. There were wolves about. She’d heard them on the mists. They were hunting, quite possibly hunting the man in her arms.