Fair Upon the Tor #38 (updates Mondays)

She waited, anxious, for a few moments after her other-self vanished. Half-expecting to hear a scream, or a terrified yell, and completely at a loss as to what she would do if her double were to cry out for help, Caewen persisted in waiting, just a little longer, a bit longer still. But there were no cries for help. There were no sounds or signs of the double at all. And though the treed dell was small, the double-self did not emerge from the other end of it. Eventually, Caewen accepted that unless she followed the double into the wooded dell herself, she was not going to see or hear anything more of the vision… thing… phantom… or whatever it was

She forced a shrug, and, with effort, she tried to feel nonchalant about this.

It was, after all, surely just some fevered illusion born of this place, anyway? Definitely. Just a phantom… or ghost of the brain, dredged up from the dark oceanic under-thoughts of the mind. Just a thing woven from her own secret fears concerning how the world looked on her, and placed her, and considered her.

Surely.

Casting a quick glance along the clear path, she took the last few paces back to its relative safeness and surety. With a shake of her head, she turned over more thoughts. Strange phantoms, indeed. Living ghosts. Memories and fears, made real. Though, to what end? Looking about, she saw the outlines of the maze walls, all around her in the near distance, and squirming in wormlike patterns up the hill slope, a mass of curdled lines, grey against the blackness of the tor. Much farther up the flank of the tor, some fires were now being lit. Small and flickering, remote. She felt cold, alone. With a leaping, throat-clawing desperation she wanted to be beside a warm fire. Away from this maze. Away from the gathering night. Away from the weird hauntings of the pathways.

As she trudged the ridge of the grassy embankment, stepping lightly along her open trail, Caewen did wonder if it really had been such a good choice to follow her curiosity through the door into this other place. “I ought have just kept on walking the maze out there,” she said to herself, though not with much conviction, and not with much of a sense of self-accusation either. After all, she thought to herself, she had just spoken to a mirror-self that seemingly had no purpose except to the take foolish risks out of a misguided sense of the invulnerable heroic.

Either the magic of this place had a sense of irony, or her own unconscious did. Either way, it didn’t strike her as amusing, and it all felt rather on the nose.

She quickly passed the place where the two paths reformed, and looked back one last time at the dell. Darkness as thick as midnight clung to the trees, and the roots, and under the leafy boughs. There was still no sign of the other, mirror Caewen. So, what more could she do then?

Certainly not wait about all night, watching the stars spin.

Onward then, to follow the path and see where this tangled mess led to next.

Her bare dirt track ran downhill, and then in and out of a handful of small, walled-in squares, all empty except for signs of having once held gardens. No other branchlets broke off these small squares, and there remained just the one gateway out of each, into the next. This part of the maze was not very mazelike at all. Just one long straight road disguised as something more convoluted.

“Hmph,” she said aloud, half a snort. Just like the maze out there, she thought. Just like a walk through life. Seemingly full of choices, and twists and turns, but really rather more direct than most people want to admit, running without much digression from start to end.

The pathways in the courtyards drew her along, and at length, deposited her outside one large doorway, lit from within by the umber glow of fire. The rock walls here were more finely cut, but were jumbled, as if they had been taken, stone-by-stone out of a castle or great city, and reassembled in odd, ill-fitting rows. Shades jumped in the uncertain flame-light. She could smell woodsmoke, and she peered into the next space only tentatively, scrunching her nose against the prickly grey fume-scent. It seemed a touch too coincidental that she had just been wishing for a fire, and now, here she was at a doorway that promised a fire beyond.

No immediate rustle or mutter of voices met her. Well, perhaps that was a good sign? Maybe the maze was done with her, and was going to allow her to find a way to an exit.

But when she stepped through the door and looked round, she felt a sigh ride through her, and her shoulders sagged. Another one.

He was sitting, hunch-shouldered on a stool made of rock, decorated all over with weird carvings. The rock looked raw and old, and, strangely, there was a little moat of water around him, as if he was trapped by it. In his hands he held the hilt of a sword that was ludicrously too large and too long. It was a sword fit for a godlike giant–magnificent, decorated with red-gold scrollwork and creatures, and three times taller than the boy. The boy himself was rather skinny, rather pimply and a bit sad looking, in a self-pitying kind of way. He would have been about Caewen’s own age, she guessed.

Taking a moment to look around, Caewen could not at first locate the fire, though the air was throaty with smoke. She walked a little way into this squared off yard, and thought for a moment she had found the reflection of the fire, only it wasn’t a reflection. The fire seemed to be burning underwater in the miniature moat, and the smoke was coming off the water, like mist off a mountain loch.

The boy still faced away from her.

“Hello,” she tried.

He started, and looked up with eyes that had a washed-out quality. It was only now that she noticed he was wearing a simple coronet made of raw white gold, polished to the point of being a high silver-white spectre of reflections. The fire’s flickers ran along the crown’s edge, and jumped in the boy’s eyes and tripped down the long, unwieldy length of sharp steel he so clumsily grasped the hilt of.

When he spoke, his voice sounded as snivelly as his expression looked. “I didn’t see you there. What do you want?”

“Oh. Um. I guess I was expecting you to tell me all about how the moot is in danger, and how you must save it.”

A flustered snarl. “How did you know that? It is the greatest of my secrets.”

She fought hard to not roll her eyes. “Call it a wild guess.” With a tilt of the head, and a frown, she asked, “So how are you planning to save the moot from this terrible danger then? With that sword of yours? It doesn’t look a very practical weapon.”