“Yes. But I don’t expect we’ll be long. I just want to wander over to the fortuneteller’s market, take a look around–that’s all–oh, I meant to ask, uhm, you don’t know where the market is, do you?”
“You are hopeless. You really would be happy to just wander around the whole of the moot until you stumble in the right direction, aren’t you?” She sighed. “Look, don’t pull a face. The fortunetellers are usually on the far side of the vendor’s market stalls, just to the north of the hill.”
“Thanks.” With a wave of one hand, Caewen left the tent, and then she and Dapplegrim walked northward, picking a line among the tents until they found a more open way ahead.
There were a few people going this way and that. Most of them had a northern cast to their features, and at least some likely haled from very far north: they had the look of the night-creature about them: a dead white pallor to the point of silveriness, with washed-out eyes and hair in shades of faint grey, straw, dishwater. One old bearded man, naked except for a loincloth, was walking in a staccato, jumping manner through the moot. His skin was leprous, and he was ruinously skinny everywhere except for his belly, which formed itself into a big round pot. He had a small crowd following him, and seemed to be pacing out some manner of ritual path, going with jumping, halting steps, and stopping every few feet to dance with his own moon-cast shadow. Behind him, the trailing crowd sang in low, murmuring voices.
Caewen and Dapplegrim waited for the procession to pass, then hurried off down another way.
Despite the potential for danger, Dapplegrim seemed to be enjoying himself. He breathed in and said, “Hurm. Good to be out walking again. Just the two of us. Things have been a bit crowded, lately, hur, hurrum.”
Caewen looked at him, sidelong. “Why, Dapple. Are you jealous of my spending time with others?”
“No. Of course not. Nonsense. I mean, why would I be jealous? That’s foolish. Hurm. I mean, yes, you are somewhat easier to get along with than most of the sorcerers and such-folk I’ve spent my years with over the centuries. So, you know, hurm. There is that.”
“I see,” said Caewen, smiling. She paused and slipped her hands to her hips, looking around. “Which way to the fortunetellers from here do you think?”
“If it’s arranged as it was last time I was here, it should be over that way.” A nod towards a mass of close-pitched tents. He then squinted up at the big bright moon and the cloud-mottled stars. “Though that was a long time ago. H’r, hurr. Things may have changed.”
They skirted the edge of the market stalls where traders were hawking their charms and curios, talismans, potions and nostrums. Caewen noticed the giant woman she had seen on the road. There was also a scattering of the little hunch-shouldered, hairy and long-limbed Nibelung too. They were going from stall to stall, scrutinising everything with hungry eyes. Presumably, they were still looking for their lost ivory box.
Past the market, the tents grew thinner for a span of a few hundred feet. Some bonfires had been piled up and lit here, and a man in a robe that looked as if it had been woven of starlight and shadows was standing in the midst of the deep orange glow. As they drew nearer it was possible to hear him calling to passersby in what turned out to be a surprisingly high and sing-song voice. Caewen stopped to listen, and put a hand on Dapplegrim’s flank so that he would notice she had stopped, and slow too. He huffed as he turned to her. The man seemed to be preaching about the virtues of the night. “I’d like to listen for a moment,” she said.
“Have you not embraced the true, old path?” he sang. “Think upon all the gifts of the night. Think upon the pleasures of the night, and tell me that the Uncreated Night is not the highest and most wondrous of all who are heavenly. The night is the mother of all things, of gods as well as of men. She is the mother of darkness, yes, but also of day and of light, of fate, of sleep and death and dreams, of discord and hardship, of hunger and fear, of sickness, revenge, laughter, song and trickery, and of feasting too, and so too of the joyousness of rest. The night is for taletelling. The night is for the singing of songs.” He took a breath, holding his arms wide, it seemed almost that he wanted to gather the darkness to him. To embrace it. “And tonight, yes, tonight, we rise up and celebrate her elder majesty, her trueness, her ancient wisdom, the Uncreated Night. Let us sing her praises, aye! For is not darkness and the night, so like the earth itself, the very cloth and fabric of motherhood? Night is the womb of womanhood, the womb of night is the womb of all who breath. The vast womb of Uncreated Night, aye and aye! But you may ask, is not the day also glorious? Yes, and yet that is still the glory of night. For out of night is born day, as the babe is birthed out of the mother. Every dusk, the day dies and night resumes, for night is eternal and gives her life to make the daylight renewed each dawn. The worshippers of the Brightness Daughter are but followers of a lesser goddess, and that is the very truth of it.” He seemed to be getting into his stride now, raising his voice as he spoke. “For, think also upon all that happens in the nighttime: birds break from their shells at night. Sheep and kine give birth at night. So too with people. And does not fear itself create unfear, and thus mark for us release? Night, the uncreated and immortal creator of all things, mother of fear, mother of courage; she marks us also for release from fears, if we but embrace her.” He grinned widely, almost drunkenly, and pulled a ribald sort of expression. “And is not consummation of marriage almost universally in the night-time? In the night season, as they say? For in the night is the power of creation, of birth, of love and aye, aye, also of sex.” He seemed to be reaching a sort of crescendo. “Sing with me! For the nighttime is the felt presence of the deity. Oh, you restless and erring spirits of sea, shadow, earth, fire and air, return to the realm of the night and rejoice! For the goddess at the first dusk of time, the woman who was not created, but who creates: she is the thrice-great, the night-being, the flesh of night, and night-inspired, she is performing for us, dancing, singing in the night, and we will hear her, if we but listen. For the night is peaceful, tranquil, and calming, and her voice carries sweetly. It is only the day that is frenetic, dazing, dizzying. Turn ye aside from the hateful eye of the day, aye! Eternal darkness and rebirthing day, turn upon the turn of hours, and night returns and returns, for the Night Queen loves her children, and she is everlasting, and thus we are, all of us, everlasting too, but only through her love.” He reached up, skyward then, and started to sing in his high, lilting voice, the words in a language that Caewen did not know.
“Come on,” said Dapplegrim. “I think we should get moving again.”
Caewen looked around. There were shadowy figures at the edges of the fire-lit area, moving about and singing a whisperous song in echo of the preacher. They were looking over those watching the orator with a rather too keen an interest.
Dapple sniffed. “They usually ask first, but not always. They will want to feed their great fires before dawn.”
Caewen felt a tremor run twisting through her. “But wouldn’t the Lady of the Tor intervene?”
“Sacrifice is not murder, hur, hr, hrmmm. Every god and goddess knows that. Or has convinced themselves of it, anyway. And the worshippers would not see it as a hurt either. After all, they are sending souls to live forever in the palace of the stars and the moon. Who wouldn’t want that? Hurm.”
“Me, for one.”
“And me too, hur, but the question is rather more rhetorical for them lot. Come on.”
“It doesn’t matter. Come on.”