Nightvoid Chapter 1: The Pig-boy

Nightvoid Chapter 1: The Pig-boy

The sun beat down through the treetops, cut into shafts that played on the dust clouds. Elwyn lay in the soft grass looking up at them in wonder. This was the very best place to lay in the entirety of Halgyr. World, even. Probably. Elwyn couldn’t have been sure about the rest of the Kingdom, but the Halgyr, for certain. He considered himself to be somewhat of an expert on the matter. He’d sat in the best of sunbeams, and in the best of the corners of the castle. Secret corners mostly. They were often the best. But the thing about his favorite spot, was that while he lay in his favorite spot, nothing would ever harm him. That was the rule. As long as he was here, in the secret patch of soft grass between the compost bin and the ramshackle outhouse that the shieldmen of Halgyr used, he was safe. Father simply couldn’t catch him as long as he was here, ditching chores.

Elwyn breathed deep the summer air, and if it weren’t for the awful stench of rotten plants and human urine it would have been exquisite. He often lay there, dreaming while awake. Once, he’d been content to lay in his room looking up at the ceiling, finding faces and stories up there just like other people do with the stars. But this was far better than any old ceiling. Laying on the ground, he looked into the trees, and the puffy pillow clouds that sped across the sky. He dreamed in his waking mind, a story of being a cloud rider.

“There you are.” A voice broke in, shattering his dream.

Elwyn blinked. His blood ran cold.

The speaker, though just out of sight was right next to him. On the other side of the outhouse in fact. Elwyn hadn’t even heard him approach.

“Oh, hello Father. I was just getting to… erm…”

The door on the opposite side of the outhouse slammed shut, and Elwyn’s Father came lumbering around the corner, puffing angrily.

Ah, well. Nothing for it but to run.

Elwyn spun up to a standing position, and sprinted off as fast as he could manage. Until a hand gripped the back his shirt by the collar, and lifted him into the air.

Dang.

Elwyn was slowly rotated in the air, legs kicking against the air as if he were still running. His rotation brought him to face Father, round bearded face bright red. The man’s nose had somehow got the worst of the transformation. It looked almost purple.

Yup, he was angry.

Elwyn was glad to see that his secret spot still worked. He’d been caught just outside the soft patch, meaning that the rule was still in place. His favorite spot was still safe. He would never get caught there, at least.

“I think,” said his Father, “That you’ve some pigs to feed. Now.”

The pigs were not so bad. They were actually quite nice. It’s just that they were so far off from the house. Also, to get there you had to pass Fang. When he was younger, he’d made the mistake of running past it in the hopes of getting a head start on the beast. It had resulted in a pair of giant paw prints on his back from where Fang had pushed him, sliding face down in the mud.

As a result of the event, Elwyn nursed a hatred of dogs, particularly white ones. And he hated the taste of mud even more. So, he walked past the house where the beast slept. The house seemed smaller than the creature itself, only coming up to Elwyn’s belly, and only just as wide. It was a shabby thing with large tufts of white hair clinging to the doorway, and there, at the bottom of that opening, a big black nose stuck out between two gigantic paws.

Thankfully, Fang did not stir. He didn’t even stop snoring as Elwyn passed by. You weren’t supposed to go into the woods alone, and he had been expected to take the monster with him whenever he went to check on the pigs. But, of course, he avoided this whenever possible.

Bucket in hand, he made his way to the end of the trail, where the pigpen was. All the way, the nice earthy scent of dying leaves filled the air. The breeze picked up the smell from the trees and carried it for miles and miles. And now, he was at the heart of it. Taking a deep breath of that kind of air made him feel big. Powerful as the wind.

At his feet, the undergrowth had been trampled free of the path leaving the earth hard, but not dry, and the tree’s roots really liked to dig at it for some reason.

Then, he heard it; the trickle of the creek water, where the pigs had been left to dig, and root. Then he smelled it. The droppings, that is. He had to push through the bushes that were just off the path in order to get a look at them. Long pink and brown shapes protruded from the mud in several places, the creek swirling clear water around their bulky shapes. There had been a crack in the creek bed, and keeping pigs over the place helps to heal it. It doesn’t take long for the creek to clear up after they’ve been moved.

“Oy!” he called.

The one nearest stiffened slightly, its ears going alert and pointing straight up into the air. In a sudden burst of energy, pigs jumped out of the mud all around. Even some he hadn’t known were there had burst from their cool napping places to see what the fuss was about. Their entire bulk shifted forward and backward, up and down, they bounced from front legs to back legs like a tantruming horse. Their tails, little kinked things, spinning to demonstrate their glee at his arrival.

They gather around Elwyn in a semi circle, snorting loudly at him. One nudges him gently forward with his snout, probably hoping he’ll spill the contents of his bucket. He doesn’t. Reaching inside, he grasps a potato peel and throws it into the mouth of the nearest pig. This elicits a chorus of squeals and dissatisfied snorts.

“Calm down, fellas, I’m working on it.” He tosses peels in their mouths one at a time, and every time, the peel disappears into the mouth of a pig and is gone in an instant. The mouth opens wide again. Impatient. That’s when he noticed something was wrong.

The all-brown one wasn’t here.

Elwyn sat on a boulder, looking down on the pigs, counting, then counting them again. Only twelve where there, splashing and digging in the mud. That stupid dog hadn’t done its job. It had been asleep.

The boy sighed. He wasn’t a tracker. He hadn’t the faintest clue how to find a lost pig. But he also knew that if he didn’t find it, Father would take it out of his hide. There was no choice left in this for him. He had to at least try it.

Putting his fingers in his mouth, though they still tasted like potato peels, he whistled loud and long.

A short while later, something large and white came bounding through the bushes. Its tail was waging, Elwyn thought, in a very threatening manor. Honestly, the dog Fang was a real beast. Feral even. He’d told Jormund and Finn, and everyone else who would listen. No one saw it. But, Elwyn supposed that even feral beasts can be useful when you’re looking for a pig.

Elwyn had expected Fang to stop at the base of the boulder. But much to dismay, Fang bounded up the side, and clambered on top as it were the easiest thing in the world. The dog wasn’t even winded.

Fang, in a single motion, licked every inch of Elwyn’s face.

Elwyn responded by hitting the dog on the nose, which elicited a kind of post-sneeze motion, after which Fang sat on his rump, stuck out his tongue, and panted contentedly. He had some nerve, ignoring Elwyn like that.

Wiping off the slobber, Elwyn gave the dog instructions. “There’s a pig missing, and it’s all your fault! We need to find it, or Father will be very upset with me.” The dog, it seemed, had no interest in what he had to say. Fang jerked his head to the right and perked up his ears with an intense look on his face. His back was straight, his chest out. The dog almost looked regal.

“Woof!” Fang said, in a loud deep and very gravely voice. He bolted after something, moving like the wind. And just like that, Elwyn was alone again, watching a ball of white fur bound across the muddy creek and into the bushes, tail wagging once more.

The boy sighed. He would have to do this all by himself. For the first time, he noticed that his clothes were covered in white hair.

“Why is it always me?”

Night came faster than he’d expected. Although, to be fair, it always came just as fast. Or so Tyarsa had told him. Just, sometimes it kind of sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking. And this time it snuck up on him because he had neglected to bring his timepiece. It was plain thing made of brass. His Father had purchased it for him so that he would stop being late for things. It hadn’t helped, because he would forget to check it, or forget to bring it, or because he would deliberately not show up on time. But most often the first.

And now, busy thinking, he had ceased his call for the pig.

Shadow was falling on the wood relentlessly, and Elwyn was still no closer to finding the all-brown pig. Fang hadn’t been any help at all, and it had been his job to keep an eye on the stupid things. It wasn’t fair. And that’s what angered Elwyn the most.

Elwyn kicked at a long dead tree that looked like a bone pile in the poor light. Only then did it occur to him that he didn’t know the way back. He looked about to find that he was not rightly sure just where he’d ended up. What had, for him, begun as a search had at some point become a passive wandering.

He’d stumbled upon the ruins, from a time when these lands were all ruled by the old folk. The buildings were strange twisting metal and stone shapes, and though they’d sat countless years in this wood, the metal had not rusted or even browned. It shined like a mirror in the dark, seeming to reflect colors that weren’t there to begin with. Not long ago, he’d played in what seemed a courtyard of old, swinging a stick sword. There is no better place to pretend, he’d discovered, than a place where things actually happened. But there is something eerie about the place while it is swathed in darkness. The night had become a part of the stonework, a column for the twining metal.

Gradually, Elwyn noticed a familiar stench. And then he realized that he’d stepped in it. Pig droppings.

“Eyck!” he wiped his boot on a patch of grass, trying to scrub it off. If only he had a source of light, he could look around by it, and might be able to see… Elwyn had just caught sight of something big moving on the opposite side of the courtyard. The hairs on his back stood on end. What was that? A ghost? A wolf? Something worse, probably.

There was a stone structure a few paces off. He moved towards it, hoping it would provide a little defense. His best bet would be to hide, and hope it couldn’t find him, whatever it was.

The stone wall was cold to the touch, and smooth. Elwyn climbed into a small nook. He dropped to his knees, resting them on a patch of wet moss, soaking his pant legs.

He listened to the sounds of the deepening night, sweating despite the cold. The sounds of distant owls and rustling branches reached him.

Only then did he think of the dog, Fang. A faithless creature to be sure, but he always came when you whistled. Perhaps he could use the beast as a distraction, letting the dog get eaten instead of himself.

A shuffling sound came close.

Without a second thought, he stuck his fingers in his mouth and blew hard.

The whistle echoed on the stone and metal walls around him. At the realization that Fang couldn’t have heard him, his spirit dropped into his belly. He was going to be eaten for sure. It was okay, he supposed. He’d had a good life despite the tyranny of Father. All things considered, perhaps…

The shuffling thing stuck its head in, curiously cocked to the side.

“Fang, what a relief. I thought for sure that thing was going to get me. You came at just the right moment.” Climbing out of his hiding place, the boy paused. He eyed the dog suspiciously. “Wait a minute… Were you just waiting for me to be eaten by that thing?”

Fang wagged his tail, only visible in the darkness thanks to its sheer whiteness. The dog walked forward, and sat in front of Elwyn.

Upon further inspection the dog was tangled in the weeds even more now. There were even some roots dangling from a small plant that had snagged onto the fur near the dog’s rump.

“What? You’re looking at me like it’s supposed to mean something. God, I wish you could just talk to me.”

At this, Fang stood and walked away.

Elwyn followed.

The dog led him, much to his disappointment, away from the ruin, and into the bushes. At least, he supposed, Fang’s white fur was easy to make out. But then, Elwyn had just taken for granted that he was being led somewhere important. It was just as possible that he was being led nowhere at all important. After all, he was being led by a creature that for some reason thoroughly enjoyed rolling in rotten carcases.

But then he smelled it. It was the familiar stench of pig droppings.

Silence loomed.

It was the kind of silence that comes the moment the night chill sets in, and the bugs start chirruping. It happens right before the stars come out. The began their evening hunt. It was a silence that closes in, and is strangely poised to make all sorts of strange sounds.

Suddenly, the silence ended. It was the moment that the moon came out from behind a cloud.

Elwyn gasped at the beauty of it; glittering shining metal all around, reflecting the light of the moon. They shot up around him in spires and coils and swirls. He was still in the heart of the ruin, but in a part he did not recognize.

He noticed that Fang had stopped to look back at him as if insisting that he follow after.

“Alright, alright. I’m coming. It’s just so beautiful.”

In a few short minutes, they came upon the pig. It was through the branches of a weeping willow bent low. It was dark under there, but Elwyn could make out the creature rooting around, wiggling it’s little tail happily.

The branches of the willow swayed and swept around, many of them touching the ground. They reached wide. From underneath, they spread a wide leafy canopy above him. It was the ideal willow. Except for one thing that he’d not known willows to have.

In the trunk of the tree was carved a man. It seemed to Elwyn that the tree had grown around the carving. The tree man was tall. Taller than Father, though not as muscular. On the head was a mask or helmet of some kind. He couldn’t have said exactly why, but it made him think of a beetle. The strangest part of the man, and the reason Elwyn had been able to see it to begin with, was the shining sword he held to his chest.

It glowed, lit from within by a soft yellow light.

From the moment he saw it, he wanted to feel it in his hands. He wanted to try swinging it. He wondered if he could learn to fight with a sword. He wondered how valuable it was.

It hadn’t occurred to him that it might be fake, or just a show blade. He somehow knew that it was a weapon for killing. That it had killed many before. It yearned to kill again.

His finger touched the hilt of it.

The light of the sword grew from the gentle yellow to a harsh white. And then it dimmed, and the light went out.

The metal seemed to grow cold under his finger.

Fang barked from behind him.

It all seemed so stupid all the sudden.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.”

Elwyn sighed as he pushed out through the branches of the willow. Together, they walked up through the ruins, and finally, home.

In the stories, when the hero returns home, he is always welcomed with the sight of a smoking hearth. The fair maiden that loves him would run up to him and embrace him. The two of them would walk hand in hand into their home, and the door would shut out all the problems he had encountered up till that point.

But he was just daydreaming himself out of the misery that Fang and that stupid pig had gotten him into.

There was probably the smoke of a hearth, but it was too dark and too cloudy for Elwyn to see anything of the sort. There was no grass for him to walk through, or horse for him ride. Just muddy pathways and tired legs.

There was not even a dog. Fang had stopped at his little house, and curled up there. The dog had carried a large tangle of weeds into it with him, but as far as Elwyn could tell, Fang really didn’t care.

In that moment, all Elwyn wanted was to already be home. And the only way he could be already home is if he imagined it.

He went on like that for a long time, imagining, just so that he could slop one foot down in front of the next, and the next, and the next, and it was really quite sickening how long this was all taking. In his mind he held out his hands to a fire and warmed his bones in its glow.

The sun beat down through the treetops, cut into shafts that played on the dust clouds. Elwyn lay in the soft grass looking up at them in wonder. This was the very best place to lay in the entirety of Halgyr. Kingdom, even. Probably. Elwyn couldn’t have been sure about the rest of the Kingdom, but the Halgyr, for certain. He considered himself to be somewhat of an expert on the matter. He’d sat in the best of sunbeams, and in the best of the corners of the castle. Secret corners mostly. They were often the best. But the thing about his favorite spot, was that while he lay in his favorite spot, nothing would ever harm him. That was the rule. As long as he was here, in the secret patch of soft grass between the compost bin and the ramshackle outhouse that the shieldmen of Halgyr used, he was safe. His father simply couldn’t catch him as long as he was here, ditching chores.

Elwyn breathed deep the summer air, and if it weren’t for the awful stench of rotten plants and human urine it would have been exquisite. He often lay there, dreaming while awake. Once, he’d been content to lay in his room looking up at the ceiling, finding faces and stories up there just like other people do with the stars. But this was far better than any old ceiling. Laying on the ground, he looked into the trees, and the puffy pillow clouds that sped across the sky. He dreamed in his waking mind, a story of being a cloud rider.

“There you are.” A voice broke in, shattering his dream.

Elwyn blinked. His blood ran cold.

The speaker, though just out of sight was right next to him. On the other side of the outhouse in fact. Elwyn hadn’t even heard him.

“Oh, hello Father. I was just getting to… erm…”

The door on the opposite side of the outhouse slammed shut, and Elwyn’s Father came lumbering around the corner, puffing angrily.

Ah, well. Nothing for it but to run.

Elwyn spun up to a standing position, and sprinted off as fast as he could manage. Until a hand gripped the back his shirt by the collar, and lifted him into the air.

Dang.

Elwyn was slowly rotated in the air, legs kicking against the air as if he were still running. His rotation brought him to face his father, round bearded face bright red. The man’s nose had somehow got the worst of the transformation. It looked slightly purple.

Yup, he was angry.

Elwyn was glad to see that his secret spot still worked. He’d been caught just outside the soft patch, meaning that the rule was still in place. His favorite spot was still safe. He would never get caught there, at least.

“I think,” said his Father, “That you’ve some pigs to feed. Now.”

The pigs were not so bad. They were actually quite nice. It’s just that they were so far off from the house. Also, to get there you had to pass Fang. When he was younger, he’d made the mistake of running past it in the hopes of getting a head start on the beast. It had resulted in a pair of giant paw prints on his back from where Fang had pushed him, sliding face down in the mud.

As a result of the event, Elwyn nursed a hatred of dogs, particularly white ones. And he hated the taste of mud even more. So, he walked past the house where the beast slept. The house seemed smaller than the creature itself, only coming up to Elwyn’s belly, and only just as wide. It was a shabby thing with large tufts of white hair clinging to the doorway, and there, at the bottom of that opening, a big black nose stuck out between two gigantic paws.

Thankfully, Fang did not stir. He didn’t even stop snoring as Elwyn passed by.

Bucket in hand, he made his way to the end of the trail, where the pigpen was. All the way, the nice earthy scent of dying leaves filled the air. The breeze picked up the smell from the trees and carried it for miles and miles. And now, he was at the heart of it. Taking a deep breath of that kind of air made him feel big. Powerful as the wind.

At his feet, the undergrowth had been trampled free of the path leaving the earth hard, but not dry, and the tree’s roots really liked to dig at it for some reason.

Then, he heard it; the trickle of the creek water, where the pigs had been left to dig, and root. Then he smelled it. The droppings, that is. He had to push through the bushes that were just off the path in order to get a look at them. Long pink and brown shapes protruded from the mud in several places, the creek swirling clear water around their bulky shapes. There had been a crack in the creek bed, and keeping pigs over the place helps to heal it. It doesn’t take long for the creek to clear up after they’ve been moved.

“Oy!” he called.

The one nearest stiffened slightly, its ears going alert and pointing straight up into the air. In a sudden burst of energy, pigs jumped out of the mud all around. Even some he hadn’t known were there had burst from their cool napping places to see what the fuss was about. Their entire bulk shifted forward and backward, up and down, they bounced from front legs to back legs like a tantruming horse. Their tails, little kinked things, spinning to demonstrate their glee at his arrival.

They gather around Elwyn in a semi circle, snorting loudly at him. One nudges him gently forward with his snout, probably hoping he’ll spill the contents of his bucket. He doesn’t. Reaching inside, he grasps a potato peel and throws it into the mouth of the nearest pig. This elicits a chorus of squeals and dissatisfied snorts.

“Calm down, fellas, I’m working on it.” He tosses peels in their mouths one at a time, and every time, the peel disappears into the mouth of a pig and is gone in an instant. The mouth opens wide again. Impatient. That’s when he noticed something was wrong.

The all-brown one wasn’t here.

Elwyn sat on a boulder, looking down on the pigs, counting, then counting them again. Only twelve where there, splashing and digging in the mud. That stupid dog hadn’t done its job. It had been asleep.

The boy sighed. He wasn’t a tracker. He hadn’t the faintest clue how to find a lost pig. But he also knew that if he didn’t find it, Father would take it out of his hide. There was no choice left in this for him. He had to at least try it.

Putting his fingers in his mouth, though they still tasted like potato peels, he whistled loud and long.

A short while later, something large and white came bounding through the bushes. Its tail was waging, Elwyn thought, in a very threatening manor. Honestly, the dog Fang was a real beast. Feral even. He’d told Jormund and Finn, and everyone else who would listen. No one saw it. But, Elwyn supposed that even feral beasts can be useful when you’re looking for a pig.

Elwyn had expected Fang to stop at the base of the boulder. But much to dismay, Fang bounded up the side, and clambered on top as it were the easiest thing in the world. The dog wasn’t even winded.

Fang, in a single motion, licked every inch of Elwyn’s face.

Elwyn responded by hitting the dog on the nose, which elicited a kind of post-sneeze motion, after which Fang sat on his rump, stuck out his tongue, and panted contentedly. He had some nerve, ignoring Elwyn like that.

Whiping off the slobber, Elwyn gave the dog instructions. “There’s a pig missing, and it’s all your fault! We need to find it, or Father will be very upset with me.” The dog, it seemed, had no interest in what he had to say. Fang jerked his head to the right and perked up his ears with an intense look on his face. His back was straight, his chest out. The dog almost looked regal.

“Woof!” Fang said, in a loud deep and very gravely voice. He bolted after something, moving like the wind. And just like that, Elwyn was alone again, watching a ball of white fur bound across the muddy creek and into the bushes, tail wagging once more.

The boy sighed. He would have to do this all by himself. For the first time, he noticed that his clothes were covered in white hair.

“Why is it always me?”

Night came faster than he’d expected. Although, to be fair, it always came just as fast. Or so Tyarsa had told him. Just, sometimes it kind of sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking. And this time it snuck up on him because he had neglected to bring his timepiece. It was plain thing made of brass. His Father had purchased it for him so that he would stop being late for things. It hadn’t helped, because he would forget to check it, or forget to bring it, or because he would deliberately not show up on time. But most often the first.

And now, busy thinking, he had ceased his call for the pig.

Shadow was falling on the wood relentlessly, and Elwyn was still no closer to finding the all-brown pig. Fang hadn’t been any help at all, and it had been his job to keep an eye on the stupid things. It wasn’t fair. And that’s what angered Elwyn the most.

Elwyn kicked at a long dead tree that looked like a bone pile in the poor light. Only then did it occur to him that he didn’t know the way back. He looked about to find that he was not rightly sure just where he’d ended up. What had, for him, begun as a search had at some point become a passive wandering.

He’d stumbled upon the ruins, from a time when these lands were all ruled by the old folk. The buildings were strange twisting metal and stone shapes, and though they’d sat countless years in this wood, the metal had not rusted or even browned. It shined like a mirror in the dark, seeming to reflect colors that weren’t there to begin with. Not long ago, he’d played in what seemed a courtyard of old, swinging a stick sword. There is no better place to pretend, he’d discovered, than a place where things actually happened. But there is something eerie about the place while it is swathed in darkness. The night had become a part of the stonework, a column for the twining metal.

Gradually, Elwyn noticed a familiar stench. And then he realized that he’d stepped in it. Pig droppings.

“Eyck!” he wiped his boot on a patch of grass, trying to scrub it off. If only he had a source of light, he could look around by it, and might be able to see… Elwyn had just caught sight of something big moving on the opposite side of the courtyard. The hairs on his back stood on end. What was that? A ghost? A wolf? Something worse, probably.

There was a stone structure a few paces off. He moved towards it, hoping it would provide a little defense. His best bet would be to hide, and hope it couldn’t find him, whatever it was.

The stone wall was cold to the touch, and smooth. Elwyn climbed into a small nook. He dropped to his knees, resting them on a patch of wet moss, soaking his pant legs.

He listened to the sounds of the deepening night, sweating despite the cold. The sounds of distant owls and rustling branches reached him.

Only then did he think of the dog, Fang. A faithless creature to be sure, but he always came when you whistled. Perhaps he could use the beast as a distraction, letting the dog get eaten instead of himself.

A shuffling sound came close.

Without a second thought, he stuck his fingers in his mouth and blew hard.

The whistle echoed on the stone and metal walls around him. At the realization that Fang couldn’t have heard him, his spirit dropped into his belly. He was going to be eaten for sure. It was okay, he supposed. He’d had a good life despite the tyranny of his father. All things considered, perhaps…

The shuffling thing stuck its head in, curiously cocked to the side.

“Fang, what a relief. I thought for sure that thing was going to get me. You came at just the right moment.” Climbing out of his hiding place, the boy paused. He eyed the dog suspiciously. “Wait a minute… Were you just waiting for me to be eaten by that thing?”

Fang wagged his tail, only visible in the darkness thanks to its sheer whiteness. The dog walked forward, and sat in front of Elwyn.

Upon further inspection the dog was tangled in the weeds even more now. There were even some roots dangling from a small plant that had snagged onto the fur near the dog’s rump.

“What? You’re looking at me like it’s supposed to mean something. God, I wish you could just talk to me.”

At this, Fang stood and walked away.

Elwyn followed.

The dog led him, much to his disappointment, away from the ruin, and into the bushes. At least, he supposed, Fang’s white fur was easy to make out. But then, Elwyn had just taken for granted that he was being led somewhere important. It was just as possible that he was being led nowhere at all important. After all, he was being led by a creature that for some reason thoroughly enjoyed rolling in rotten carcasses.

But then he smelled it. It was the familiar stench of pig droppings.

Silence loomed.

It was the kind of silence that comes the moment the night chill sets in, and the bugs start chirruping. It happens right before the stars come out. The began their evening hunt. It was a silence that closes in, and is strangely poised to make all sorts of strange sounds.

Suddenly, the silence ended. It was the moment that the moon came out from behind a cloud.

Elwyn gasped at the beauty of it; glittering shining metal all around, reflecting the light of the moon. They shot up around him in spires and coils and swirls. He was still in the heart of the ruin, but in a part he did not recognize.

He noticed that Fang had stopped to look back at him as if insisting that he follow after.

“Alright, alright. I’m coming. It’s just so beautiful.”

In a few short minutes, they came upon the pig. It was through the branches of a weeping willow bent low. It was dark under there, but Elwyn could make out the creature rooting around, wiggling it’s little tail happily.

The branches of the willow swayed and swept around, many of them touching the ground. They reached wide. From underneath, they spread a wide leafy canopy above him. It was the ideal willow. Except for one thing that he’d not known willows to have.

In the trunk of the tree was carved a man. It seemed to Elwyn that the tree had grown around the carving. The tree man was tall. Taller than Elwyn’s father, though not as muscular. On the head was a mask or helmet of some kind. He couldn’t have said exactly why, but it made him think of a beetle. The strangest part of the man, and the reason Elwyn had been able to see it to begin with, was the shining sword he held to his chest.

It glowed, lit from within by a soft yellow light.

From the moment he saw it, he wanted to feel it in his hands. He wanted to try swinging it. He wondered if he could learn to fight with a sword. He wondered how valuable it was.

It hadn’t occurred to him that it might be fake, or just a show blade. He somehow knew that it was a weapon for killing. That it had killed many before. It yearned to kill again.

His finger touched the hilt of it.

The light of the sword grew from the gentle yellow to a harsh white. And then it dimmed, and the light went out.

The metal seemed to grow cold under his finger.

Fang barked from behind him.

It all seemed so stupid all the sudden.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.”

Elwyn sighed as he pushed out through the branches of the willow. Together, they walked up through the ruins, and finally, home.

In the stories, when the hero returns home, he is always welcomed with the sight of a smoking hearth. The fair maiden that loves him would run up to him and embrace him. The two of them would walk hand in hand into their home, and the door would shut out all the problems he had encountered up till that point.

But he was just daydreaming himself out of the misery that Fang and that stupid pig had gotten him into.

There was probably the smoke of a hearth, but it was too dark and too cloudy for Elwyn to see anything of the sort. There was no grass for him to walk through, or horse for him ride. Just muddy pathways and tired legs.

There was not even a dog. Fang had stopped at his little house, and curled up there. The dog had carried a large tangle of weeds into it with him, but as far as Elwyn could tell, Fang really didn’t care.

In that moment, all Elwyn wanted was to already be home. And the only way he could be already home is if he imagined it.

He went on like that for a long time, imagining, just so that he could slop one foot down in front of the next, and the next, and the next, and it was really quite sickening how long this was all taking. In his mind he held out his hands to a fire and warmed his bones in its glow.

Jordan Hawes

Jordan Hawes

Spokane, WA