Fair Upon the Tor #37 (updates Mondays)

She left him then, and kept walking the path, past the dead tree, eventually reaching the other side of the enclosure. As she went, the sounds of his angry, under-breath muttering trailed along with her, like dust pulled in the wake of a passing wagon.

Once Caewen was away from the grass-covered mound, the words dimmed off into faintnesses, and then were gone. Those tall, harshly hewn and carven walls, that had made a wide encirclement of the tree and hillock, crept back in, closing on either side of the path, forming into a narrower way once more. The trackway ran on between the walls, and with no other way to go, she followed it, looking around, listening, wondering. A good few minutes of walking passed her by, before the way widened again, and spilled her into another scene of eerie grassy wilderness, all lit white, and zinc-hued in the gathering moonlight. Moths were rising out of the thick, rank leaves, fluttering silent circles, ghost-pale in the dusk cold air. Just a little way ahead, the path split in two, and then ran parallel on these two prongs. For a span of a good few hundred paces at the least, the two dirt tracks lay seemingly side-by-side. This was odd. Why have two paths alongside each other? She hunted up the length of them with her eyes.

The path to the left did eventually ease off downhill and then plunge into a small but thick and shadowy wood. The path on the right just curved itself off and away: skirting the dark wood, and taking an easier, more open way. Far ahead, on the other side of the wood, the two paths rejoined. There seemed no reason to take the lefthand path at all… unless a person actually wanted to trudge into a tangled and airless little wooded dell. Caewen didn’t take long to decide which path to choose. She was happily moving at a quick step on the open, clear way, when she saw a figure moving with the same speed towards the dark forest, off to her left.

“A’hey there!” she called. Waving her hands, she called out again, “Halloo!”

The figure, who seemed to be of about her own height, and of a slender frame, turned to look, and waved back. With posture and countenance much more friendly than the young Mannagarm, the person called back, and it was the voice a young woman that carried over the grass to Caewen. “Hello there, to you.” An odd familiarity, and an odd, quare sense of discomfit flitted across the grass with those words also. A tautening of her skin jumped along the back of he neck, in the hollows of her knees, down the back of her hands. The voice was familiar.

The two of them left their respective paths, crossed the grassy ground and met halfway. As they drew closer, Caewen felt her unease unfold and enlarge. Once they were at a conversational distance, it was unmistakable. She could no longer tell herself anything else. Caewen was clearly looking at her own self, reflected back at her. True, this mirror self was dressed in some manner of outlandish outfit, like a court fool, in green and red, and, yes,  she carried nothing but a stout walking stick: but, her own smiling face was gazing back at her, clear eyed, and, to Caewen’s way of thinking, wearing an expression that was more than a bit irritatingly naive. Even perhaps, slightly vacant.

“Why, hello there, fellow traveller,” said the mirror Caewen in red-and-green, apparently either unperturbed by, or unaware of any resemblance. “Are you walking around the woods then?”

“Um.” Caewen collected some words together in a basket of thoughts, and tried to find a way through this conversation, “Yes, yes… I guess I am. It looks like you were about to walk straight into the dell.” She looked at the dark wooded gully, all tangled, all shadowed, and overgrown with low scrabbly ferns, scrub, and clawing trees. A stirring of noises of unseen and wild things was drifting out of the woods too. Unpleasant things were waiting in there. “Shouldn’t you consider taking the open path? I mean, the way I’m walking is much clearer, and surely less dangerous?”

“H’m, that might be true.” The mirror-self furrowed her face up in a way that Caewen recognised from the inside. She did that herself when she was thinking seriously about a problem. It was disconcerting. Hearing herself speak. Watching her facial expressions dance, and wrinkle, and jump about in fits of idle thought. “I’m taking this path into the woods because the moot is threatened, and everyone will be slaughtered if someone doesn’t do something about it.” The other Caewen looked at the forest, and bit her underlip. Another of Caewen’s own habits that she was not always totally aware of. “It will be a bloody slaughter, if nothing is done. But, rumour has it that there is a treasure hidden in those woods, and whoever owns that treasure will be able to restore peace, and save everyone, and the whole of the moot will be rescued, and the whole of everything else too maybe. And so, into the dark woods is where I must go.”

“But there might be nothing at all hidden in that little wildwood though, surely? I mean, it’s not even very big. And I can hear beasts in there. Look!” She pointed. “You can see shapes moving in the leaves. It’s a foolish risk… for what? A possibility of some mysterious treasure? What makes you think these rumours are even true?”

“Well, if I were hiding a wonderful treasure, it is the sort of place I’d hide it. Only stands to reason, if you think about it. Put it somewhere creepy and uncanny where no one much would want to look for it.”

“I suppose,” she conceded. A glance again at the dark woods, and back at this other self, standing before her, armed only with a stout walking stick. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to walk with me around the forest?”

“Oh no. I can’t take the safe path. That just isn’t for me.”

“It wouldn’t be, would it? H’m. If only Dapple were here now. He would be laughing himself into fits. Me, arguing with myself, trying to convince myself not to go into dangerous places.”

“Oh yes.” Her eyes lit up and a smile that was full of joy and memories broke over her face. “He would laugh so, wouldn’t he? Good ol’ Dapplegrim.”

“You know you’re me then?”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“And it doesn’t trouble you?” asked Caewen.

“Why would it? Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we each had a Dapplegrim? We’d be quite the sight then.”

“You’re making me uncomfortable.”

A genuine look of puzzlement came of the mirror Caewen’s face. “How so?”

“You just are,” Caewen said. “Here, listen a moment, if you will? Can you tell me what is threatening the moot. That phantom who called himself Mannagarm said the same thing. The whole moot is in terrible danger–or something–but from what?”

“Oh no, of course I can’t tell you that. It would be against all the rules.” She kicked at the ground and looked a touch embarrassed. “And, to be honest, you really ought have worked it out by now. You already have all the necessary lines of the riddle. You just need to put them together.” More proudly, she added, “Like I did.”

Caewen folded her arms. She could feel her face solidifying into an unpleasant scowl. “You’re not helpful.”

Her doppleganger just laughed. “It takes one to know one.” She gave out a small sketch of a bow, followed by another of her broad smiles. “Now, if you excuse me, I need to be off on my way. I’ve a treasure to find, and a whole mootful of sorcerers, witches, wizards and suchlike to save from certain death.” She tipped her red and green hat, and turned her back to Caewen, and strode back to the path that led into the darkness of interlarded trees. With a cheerful, somewhat artless whistle, she strolled into the murk of the forest. Within moments she was lost to sight.

Was that how other people saw her? She wondered about it. Or was this how she was afraid she saw herself? Or was it some apparition drawn from some other time and place? Had she been actually talking to herself, or just to a semblance of herself? And that whistling was not pleasant. She would have to ask Dapplegrim to tell her honestly if she needed to practise her own whistle. Surely, she whistled better than that.

Distractedly, she tried a few notes, considering them, and soured on the sound of them. Maybe her ability to hold a tune was that bad?