“Best not be touching those carvings. Not unless you want to spend the rest of your life listening to the voices and songs of them things that dwell in the icy voids between the stars. Of course, some folk do.” She looked up, frowning, as if she could see shapes moving high above in the evening sky. “They are ancient, them things that stir, half-awake, out there, in endless, lifeless cold, and they do speak of deep secrets, and magics, and truths.” Forming a gap-toothed sneer of a grin on her face, she said, “But their voices are the voices of madness also.” The creature then puckered up her unpleasant looking mouth. “Me? I wouldn’t want to know what those things think of you, or me, or this great green earth. It cannot be good to know such things. Better to continue in pleasant ignorance.”
Caewen managed to articulate a few clumsy half-thoughts through a mind that still felt bloodless and deadened. “Who are you?” she asked. It was true, she realised: an inhuman sense of coldness had seeped out of the stones and into her prickling flesh while she had been looking at the carvings. She glanced at the patterns once more, and regretted doing so. The feeling laced back into her mind, again, that terrible coldness. But, when she screwed her eyes tight and looked away, the awful mad, itching iciness started to recede much faster. She was able to take a deep and steadying breath. With forced calm, Caewen said, “Do you belong to the goddesses?”
“Me? Goodness, no. I am one such as she who died in the sea cave, and had my head cut away and placed in darkness under the earth. But that’s rather a lot to remember. Call me Moggie Moulach.” She scuffled closer, huffing as she came, lifting the leading hem of a ratty old dress of rough woven hemp.
“What are you then?” said Caewen. She took an almost involuntary step backwards. If the carvings gave off a sense of palpable wrongness, this strange bent creature was just about as bad–though the uncanny sensation was at the same time, wholly different. Where the carvings felt cold, dead and remote, full of an inscrutably vast perspective, this hobbling things had a warm deadness to her. Like a body mouldering in a muddy grave of leaves. Caewen’s flesh pricked up like a goose’s as she looked at the creature. Her marrow flashed with small flicks of warning and unease. “You can call youself whatever name you want, but… what on earth are you?” She took another backward step, knowing that it must look impolite, but not caring if she insulted the thing that was shuffling nearer. She simply did not want to be close to her, or it, whatever the creature might be.
“Not on earth, but under it, mortal lass. As I said, I am Moggie Moulach, and Moggie Moulach is what I am. As to my kith and kindred, it is not entirely within your ken to know entirely what I am, though you would call my folk, Faer.”
“Faerie,” said Caewen. “No goddess then, but one of the Faer Ones. Are you the kidnapper in the maze then?” Stealing people was something the Faer were well known for, at least in the bogle-tales of the mountains where Caewen had grown up. The Faer snatched away those they took a liking to: away under hills, and into strange otherworlds of grey warmthless light and endless dusk. So the stories went.
“Oh no. No, of course not. That’s them three goddess things, the lass-thievers. You must be careful of divinities. All confected to be a fairness of voice and complexion, but they run much fouler than worms and slugs down beneath the skin. Not like me.”
“I confess you strike me as uncanny on a different slant. Different, but the same. Dangerous through and through. If the goddesses are in their way foul, you are foulness’s self, surely.”
Spittle formed on her lower lip as she laughed. “Impolite. Direct. I like that.”
“I thought the Faer loved politeness.”
“Yeah, well, aye. Most of them. But I’m more honest. I wear my foulness proudly, you see. You know what you are dealing with, you talk to me. Course, that’s not true of all my folk.” She scratched at her nose using a claw-like finger on her hairy left hand. Then digging at the flesh on the inside of her left nostril, she seemed to find the itch she was after, sighed and added, “In my opine, it is lucky you ran across me, foul or not, and not some fairer looking beastie. Never trust creatures that choose to make themselves beautiful. There’s always some ulterior motive.”
“I suppose I have to agree. I have run into that sort of thing before.”
“The Wisht Folk, up and away north.”
“Ah. Them. Cousins to the Fane, but they made bad bargains, long ago, and now they have more than a little Faer blood in them, and slithering shadows too, and rot. Well and well.”
“Yet, I still have to wonder about a creature who choses to make herself weird and unpleasant. What is her ulterior motive?”
“Well, in my opine, such creatures are just being honest about how they see themselves. That is all.” She looked around. “This is growing tiresome. Now. Where were we? I’ve warned you not to touch the carvings of the nameless things that howl in the gulf between the stars. Aye.” She rearranged the hem of her ragged skirt. “So then, if I may be so bold, which way were you going to walk, from here onwards?”
“Just the way I was going.” Caewen indicated with a hand. The cleft they stood in was overrun to a riot with those convoluted carvings all up and down the walls, but it led, sure and straight into the near distance, where the way appeared to take a hard turn left. “There are no other ways to go.”
“Are there not now?” said the creature that called herself Moggie Moulach. She pursed her lips and frowned, then squinted and with a small huff, she said, “What about that door, then?”
Caewen started to say “What door?” but only got halfway through the question. When she looked she saw that there was indeed a door she hadn’t noticed before. How could she not have noticed it? It stood plainly the end of this straight length of crevice, just beyond where the cup and ring marks ended. Instead of turning left, she might push the door open and keep going straight on. Like everything in this place, it looked old and primitive: just a slab of wood on ancient hinges. Nothing decorative or remarkable stood out about it. Just a plain and very old door.
“Now where did that come from?” said Caewen at a whisper.
“It came from nowhere. ‘Twas always there… you just had to be told where to look. That’s all.”
“What is beyond it?”
“A more informative path. I cannot advise you past that, yeah or nay, whether good or ill, nor whether you ought take the veiled door… but you will certainly learn things from that path that you will not learn upon this path.”
Caewen took a couple hesitant steps down the crevice. The shadows were growing colder. A single large, wet star had already come out in the sky, promising a cold night. She tested her lips with the wet of her tongue, feeling the damp, and the chill. “Why would you help me? If this is help?”
“Ah, for the same reason that the Three Goddesses have taken an interest in you.” A long snuffle rattled through her hairy nostrils. “Think of the world as a great game of pieces, moving about, this taking that, that blocking this, always moving, outflanking, or being outflanked. Well, you, my charming mortal lass, as it turns out, are a free piece on the board–an uncommitted token, so to speak. Now, there are of course many such tokens; being all of them folks as are not a part of this machination or that one, but not all such pieces have the promise of being useful in the great worldly game. Frankly, my dear mortal lass, you have that potentiality. And so there is interest in you. From one quarter, or another, and another.”
“And what quarter are you in then? I didn’t think the Faer Folk took much interest in anything but their own revels and feasts.”
“Ah, such is true of the bulk of my kind, quite true, true. But… there are some of us who have longer term designs, and so we are rather in our own quarter, if you will accept that as an answer. Neither night, nor day, nor shadow, flame, nor waters, rains, storm, nor darksome earth. We hold to our own interests.”
“I have heard stories that the Faer Folk must speak the truth, and can never break oaths. Would you make a promise that you intend me no harm by sending me through some strange door in the maze?”
“And I’m sure you’ve heard that the Faer can be made to go away by throwing salt over your left shoulder, or walking sun-wise three times around a juniper bush, or by turning your stockings inside-out, or by tapping me with a wand made of twelve twigs of rowan bound up with a red ribbon, eh? I encourage you to try these things. You may find that the truth of the world is a vast long way from the fancies of tales.”
“Then why should I trust you at all? Why should I trust to the advice of some strange…” she searched for a word and finally just said, “thing, wandering about in this place?”
“Why? You only need one reason. Think on it: what should lie beyond that door, that the three goddesses of this hill desire to keep it concealed from mortal eyes? You could never have seen the way on your own. None who come here as walkers in the maze could have seen the way. It took Faer arts to reveal it to mortal eyes. That is a very well hidden door. So what does that mean, I wonder?” A predatory grin.
Caewen did turn to face the door then. Her brow knit, and she turned thoughts over in her head. “But what if–” she started and then said, “No, but it could be that–” and paused. “You twisted old wretch. I’m curious now, and I can’t help myself.”