The Eyght of Harrowden
Copyright � 2002-2017 by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: Decemberrd, 2017]
Like most Palaeoboreanic epics, The Book of Rowans follows a fairly typical Palaeoboreanic narrative structure, containing an antegesis (pre-story), imegesis (in-story), diegesis (through-story), and exegesis (out-story).
¶I. By the crack of day the menacing hiss of the wraiths had faded at last from the Somberwood, given way to a silence lain heavy upon all the wood but for the faintest sounds of life. Serenity and Faith had grown by then very cold, and held each the other’s shivering and naked body as they pushed ever forth, enduring the chill of fog not yet chased from the Somberwood by the still-shrouded Sun. And forcedly they panted in the wintry brume as their lips trembled, their noses grew wet, and their skin became dampened and blotched ruddily by the icy dew that had collected on every inch of them. Yet whimpering shakily they kept on behind Reyna as she guided them through the wilds.
¶II. The Huntress, the Sage, and the Questrist pervaded the Somberwood ever deeper, and as they did they began to see darkly withered shrubs, barren trees bearing black and shriveled fruits, thickets of ebony brambles, and swart-stemmed briars donning black roses scattered sparsely atwixt the deadwood boles. And swallows hunted among the trees.
¶III. “We must be nearing this Lightmote of thine,” said Faith, looking around at what little life seemed struggling to grow about them.
¶IV. “It shouldn’t be much further,” replied Reyna, her voice then becoming solemn as but a sullen whisper as her eyes shifted for and fro across the misty weald, her ears attent to the sounds of the trees around them, “though there seemeth to be something here not quite smelling as it should. It would greatly behoove us to step thoughtfully from here forward.”
¶V. “What’s that over there?” asked Serenity, her own voice nearly a whisper.
¶VI. Reyna looked whither the Dryad had pointed, and she saw there marked upon a tree a graven sigil. Slowly the Huldra approached the tree as the two Wood Nymphs followed, and she touched the crudely torn scar just lightly, saying:
¶VII. “ ‘Tis still alive. Barely so, but alive. Strange that a tree could survive here. Stranger that some creature would scar so a living tree here.”
¶VIII. “But living trees are scarred often,” said Serenity. “By birds, by mice, by ratatosks boring into them to make their homes; by Humans and Elves that fell them to make their own homes. ‘Tis simply a part of Nature’s order that a tree be so harmed.”
¶IX. “Yet ‘tis very unnatural a thing for a wight to find what black and rotted tree still endureth slightly deep within itself, to chose that very tree among the whole of a deadwood forest, and into it carve such a horrid mark as this: This is a rune to mark a boundary, carved into a barely living tree when others could be chosen, and purposely, done so as a message, for ‘twas Nymphs that forged this mark. A ward to keep away the Shadow, not wholly unlike the sigils carved into those dead and withered trees rounding the Garden Lightmote; but also a declaration of the hate they feel for Nature, the hate they feel toward life.”
¶X. “How dost thou know?” queried Faith. “It could merely be a coincident that this tree still hath life in it. Thou hast said thyself even around Lightmote there are carvings in the trees. A mere carving could never harm it, as any Nymph would know. Mayhap the Nymphs hoped the life still within the tree would empower for them their ward? Or mayhap they did it to protect the tree from the ravages of the Shadow? There’s no way to know this was done in malice, no way to know ‘twas done as a message by Nymphs that care naught of Nature and life.”
¶XI. “On the contrary, wise Sage. I know very well the intent behind this sigil, by the very features of the mark itself. This ward hath been written not in the Trow Runes of the Nymphs of Lightmote, but hath been written in the Bindrunes of the Nymphs of Harrowden, the Maenads of the Somberwood.”
¶XII. “We should keep going,” said Serenity.
¶XIII. “Ay, ‘twould appear the Maenads have expanded their hunti-- ” Reyna stopped, and began to sniff at the air. She then dashed suddenly forth, away of the Questrist and her Sage, into the Somberwood’s vapors.
¶XIV. “Reyna! Whither hast gone thou?” cried Faith, her voice resounding through all the morning fogs.
¶XV. Then dark and Nymph-formed shades began rousing behind the mist-veil that bound the deadwoods, and from the paly mists six Nymphs stepped outward forth. They had of themselves an compared to what features defined the various sorts of Nymph the likeness of Dryads: hair in all the hues of blonde and red, from nearly white to crimson; and also eyes as bright as gemstones, whether emerald or jazel or some shade between; and all with faces lightly freckled. But no Dryads were these, for through the gleam of their eyes shone not the spirit of Gaya, but a lusting as wolves raging inly for blood spilt of the necks of the most tender young, as their eyes stayed fixed hungrily upon the prey before them.
¶XVI. Each of them wore upon her head a crown of withered ivy, ‘round her shoulders a cape of fawnskin, and around her hips a fox-fell pelt to cover her unclad loins. And each before her bore a spear, and had ‘round her mouth the sanguine stains of bloody meat and red wine. As surely as resideth within the Dryad all that in Nature be of beauty and life, so each these women did inside of her have stalking all that in Nature be of suffering and death, resigned wholly and ever unto the dire bloodlusts of her flesh.
¶XVII. One of them came fore as the others surrounded the twain Dryads, and unto Faith and Serenity she said cruelly smiling: “We are Maenads of the Somberwood; this is the homewood of our tribe. I am Rapacity, Delta Maenad and Prime Huntress of the Younger Tribe of Antipathy.” Rapacity then began to point at each Maenad of her hunting party, saying: “And that is Avarice, Impurity, Carnage, Iniquity, and Malice. Who would ye be?”
¶XVIII. “We are Dryads of the Emerald Forest,” replied Faith, “and we are on our way to the Elderwood. We haven’t the time to stay and chatter.”
¶XIX. “Oh, I’m afraid ‘tis not such a simple thing, little Dryad,” said Rapacity. “Ye have trespassed against us, and have violated our land. Therefore we must collect from you a tax ere we permit you to pass beyond this point.”
¶XX. “Please, ye must allow us to pass,” said Serenity kindly. “We have naught to offer you as a tax.”
¶XXI. “If ye cannot produce for us the required tax,” said Rapacity, “then ye must submit yourselves unto our custody for violating the Law of our land.”
¶XXII. “Who are ye to claim this land as your own?” asked Serenity. “The land belongeth to all that dwell upon and within it, to every creature. ‘Tis not yours to govern, it hath of itself no law, and ye certainly have no right to tax it. The land hath only the brown earth, the green grass and trees, and the grey sky above. Ye can make whatever laws ye choose, and if ye have the means and the power ye may even enforce those laws; but those laws are not and will never be of the land, but only of those who would thrust their unjust rule upon it.”
¶XXIII. “The law,” added Faith, “is the rape of the land and all who call it home. We shan’t ask you again for approval. Ye shall grant us passage, for the land hath given you no right to require of us a tax.”
¶XXIV. “Your thoughts on the matter mean naught to us,” smiled Rapacity. “The Law is that it is, and no measure of argument on your part shall change that. Ye are guilty of evading the tax, and of being in contempt of the Law. Now ye will be made to pay for your crimes.”
¶XXV. “Ye cannot be serious,” said Faith, her eyes filled of dismay.
¶XXVI. Rapacity laughed splendidly as the other Maenads smiled cruel and twisted grins. Unto Faith then Rapacity said: “We’re terribly serious, I assure thee.”
¶XXVII. With their spears held steadily in their hands Iniquity, Avarice, and Malice closed in around the Dryads as Carnage and Impurity produced each from under her cape a coarse rope that had before been hung from her fox-fell pelt. And the Maenads bound the necks of Serenity and Faith with the rope, and at spear-point led them away from there, ever deeper the depths of the Somberwood.
¶XXVIII. The Maenads led Serenity and Faith by their necks through all the day, and as ever the Dryads were walked they saw more Bindrunes carved upon the trees, until when finally the Sun had begun to set and the sky begun to darkly redden they were brought unto what seemed the Somberwood’s very end.
¶XXIX. There before them stood a great bulwark of blackened dead boles wrought gnarled and bent into a solid form, into the Somberwood’s murk stretching far as they all could see. Growing everywhere upon it were briars clawed in sickly black thorns, and caught in the briars were bones of every thinkable size and form, steeled all of them by the scabrous vines into the knotted bulwark’s every facet and cleft. There were remains it seemed of every variety of creature to be found in all the Northlands, represented each by skulls, ribs, teeth, legs, piths, shoulders, arms, and hips. And from beneath the bones and the briars shone through like embers many a glowing red Bindrune, that into the timbers’ crusts had roughly been graved.
¶XXX. Straight afore them in the bulwark was a doorway; from within it there intensely glowed a golden light, casting at them a fiery glare companied by the deathly reek of rotting flesh as the stench of what heavy fog issued forth from inside the doorway began to swath them. Buttressing the aperture was as its either pillar the femur of what seemed likely a great dragon, and arching across the pillars a crown of Mannish skulls. And as the archway’s keystone there sat the skull of a Satyr, upon it inscribed in blood these words by the ancient Old Nalyn script: “Llūrändĕlōvā llā’Quāl änÿn än’änūndŏvā”.
¶XXXI. There at either side of the doorway stood a single Centaur; beneath great spiring horns their stoic eyes glowered as they stared intently fore, with arms crossed as they rigidly there stood, their lionish tails behind them swaying. Their war-painted faces looked nary an instant to the Maenads nor their captives, nor did their cloven hooves budge.
¶XXXII. As the Nymphs approached the skeletal arch the inscription scribed upon the keyskull lit, and kindled every moment slowly more lucent, till it glowed betimes as brightly the same golden yellowred hue as that within bulwark’s mouth. From the archway sweltering blew a draft like the breath of the Netherrealms’ hottest ring. And from the doorway’s other side there came many a wounded screaking, and also bedeviled moans amid the horridest pain-fraught laughter.
¶XXXIII. Faith and Serenity both shivered at the sights before them, and at the screams drowning even the distant Shadow’s hiss. And as ever toward the bulwark’s fiery hole the Maenads by rope-leashes toused the Dryads, so too the Dryads assayed with all their inmost might to resist, lest by the very jaws of Kur they be devoured.
¶XXXIV. “Nay, I beg of you,” pled Serenity as she and Faith were dragged past the Centaurian guards, “ye mustn’t do this!”
¶XXXV. Against the ropes the Dryads fought, Serenity against Avarice and Faith against Impurity as the Maenads pulled them nearer the chthonic estuary. And by what doom they feared would soon beshrew them, they cried. Dragged beneath the archway, converse the bulwark’s outward face; it was there upon a ridge Serenity and Faith stood brought by the Maenads, facing more baneful a sight than ever before they had ever beforetime imaged:
¶XXXVI. Sprawling acres harrowsome and foreboding was a great hollow in the Somberwood carved, its boundaries steep and bowled, enclosed all around by the bulwark wherethrough they’d passed. Above the bulwark came together into great dome trussed of dark and withered branches, concealing the sky. Everywhere about the dell fires hotly burned, flickering red the hollow’s walls and ceiling. Strewn throughout the hollow lay carcasses both rotting and fresh, their stench filling all the air that moreover was thick with flitters of ash and black smoke. And in its mean was the dell riven, for through it there wound stilly a broad and idle rill of dark water brooking the dell’s northern- and southernmost ends, colored wine by the fires’ faint rubescent glow.
¶XXXVII. Froward the bank nearest them jutted into the waters a wharf structured of what seemed to be hoary round stones, and atop them a broad flat walkway of cob. The wharf came at its end in the river’s midst to a truncate eyght of like construct, whence had the screaming come. The eyght’s round plane was greater in breadth than an acre, and circling atop the stony rise with but a mere cubit atween itself and the eyght’s edge there stood a ruined peristyle. At the plane’s center was standing a statue whose person was from so far unknowable, and about the statue a multitude of Nymphs, who obscured by the peristyle’s marble columns were from such great a distance innumerable.
¶XXXVIII. “Welcome ye to Harrowden,” said Carnage.
¶XXXIX. “I do-not think we come here so well,” replied Serenity.
¶XL. “What way more well than as captives lit’rally bound to give them no trouble?” said Faith.
¶XLI. “That’s the spirit,” smiled Rapacity. “Ye’ll only make things more difficult for yourselves by resisting.”
¶XLII. And so the Maenads led their captives adown the great bone stairway afore them, over steps comprising skulls and legs and ribs, and parts of every sort and of every wight and beast and fowl, packed all in cob and skillfully fixed into a flawlessly bone-wrought staircase.
¶XLIII. Once upon the Harrowden’s floor the Dryads were led along a cobblestone path, through a tunnel of many a Dragon’s ribs, ever toward the jetty that ahead the path became.
¶XLIV. About them mantipedes fed from the lykes. Reddish things with long and spidery legs carrying their segmented wormlike forms. At each mantipede’s foremost part stood a mantis’ torso with its long and folding arms; yet its mouthparts were more as the scorpion’s; curving, clasping claws long as its arms to cut its meal. And thus did the mantipedes partake of their lifeless prey: taking up in their thorn-lined arms remains, and then tearing off with their mouthparts bits of flesh. Though they were eating of carrion it was clear they could as well predate, as their rearmost ends sported maxillipeds long and sickle-curved. As they ate their antennae twitched. And each was a cubit in length.
¶XLV. In many spots were carrion beetles horded together -- some hordes upon the carcasses, others upon the mantipedes preying. And violently these mantipedes thrust and curled as their tiny assailants consumed them. Yet neither the mantipedes nor beetles would come near the cobblestone path.
¶XLVI. As the Maenads brought Faith and Serenity nigh the jetty, the Dryads could see the hoary stones that raised the path and eyght above the river were in fact skulls fixed together with cob.
¶XLVII. “This place, Harrowden:” said Carnage, “‘tis the depository of the Somberwood. Herein lieth the meat and bones of whatsoever creature be foolish enough to wander into the Somberwood’s shades. Well, all save those we’ve kept for ourselves.”
¶XLVIII. “I do-not much care for the sound of that,” said Serenity.
¶XLIX. “Nor I,” said Faith.
¶L. And Serenity and Faith were led by the Maenads across the jetty, and onto the skull-wrought Eyght of Harrowden. As they walked beneath one of the peristyle’s many arches, between the twain columns that most forwardly faced the jetty, they saw in the center of the eyght’s cobblestone floor a man-sized statue. The statue was of Dionysus, holding straight out before him in his one right hand the balancing scales of justice; yet His right arm had been broken off, and as well part of His face. At the furthest end of the courtyard were seven Dryads bound to the peristyle’s columns, standing each in a pile of her own shit. And there were also six more Maenads lying about, drinking from wineskins greedily. And there was yet one more Maenad, dancing in circles about the Dionysian statue, who wore no fox-pelt about her hips but instead a fox-head wreathed in ivy as her crown; about her fawnskin-clad shoulders she carried a Hydra of six heads, and in her left hand a staff wrapped in withered ivy with a pinecone at its head.
¶LI. All seven of the Maenads seemed oblivious to the presence of the six that had escorted Faith and Serenity there, until the one dancing turned and finally then noticed them.
¶LII. “Ooh,” she chipped, as she that instant halted her dance, “ye’ve brought us toys!” The other six Maenads perked up; the one Maenad smiled excitedly as she then began toward Serenity and Faith, and Rapacity and Carnage respectfully parted for her to pass.
¶LIII. And she approached Faith and Serenity, and unto them said: “Behold, for I am Antipathy, Honorable Magistrate of the Court, Priestess of His Highness Dionysus Our Lawgiver, and Alpha Maenad of this tribe.”
¶LIV. Antipathy then turned and pointed at each of the other six Maenads, and introduced them thus: “And she is Polity, and she, Governance, and she is Tyranny, and she is Legality, and she is Dominance, and she is Conformity.” Antipathy then pointed out each of the seven bound Dryads, calling them Allegiance, Servility, Accord, Deference, Obedience, Suffrage, and Duress.
¶LV. “Ye too will be given proper names under the Law,” said Antipathy.
¶LVI. “We have names,” said Faith, her head held high. “I am Faith, and this is my Serenity.”
¶LVII. Impurity jerked hard on the leash to which Faith was bound as Rapacity with the back of her hand struck Faith across her face. “Disobey thee not the Word of the Law!” ordered Rapacity. Yet Faith held her head again high and her jaw firm, on her face no hint of fear, and with her emerald eyes stared bravely into the face of Antipathy.
¶LVIII. “No need to be so savage, just yet,” said Antipathy to the other Maenads, as her own blue eyes stared back at Faith. “They will learn. They all learn, in time. Now, tie these kine to the peristyle with the other Dryads.”
¶LIX. Conformity and Dominance put down their wineskins and stood to their feet, and came to take Faith and Serenity’s leashes from Impurity and Avarice as Antipathy stepped aside. Having taken the ropes Avarice and Impurity led the two Dryads to the other end of the courtyard, and there the two Maenads tethered Faith and Serenity each by her leash to a column. Impurity then bound Faith’s hands and feet as Avarice did the same to Serenity.
¶LX. There stood Faith at Serenity’s left, Serenity at the left at Duress, Duress at the left of Suffrage, Suffrage at the left of Obedience, Obedience at the left of Deference, Deference at the left of Accord, Accord at the left of Servility, and Servility at the left of Allegiance, each to her own column bound. And Suffrage, Obedience, Deference, Accord, Servility, and Allegiance: each wore a cloth to bind her eyes.
¶LXI. In the sweltering heat of Harrowden the nine Dryads waited as Impurity and Avarice returned to the midst of the eyght near the Dionysian statue.
¶LXII. With whips of braided vine the Maenads lashed at the Dryads, and in throes of agony the Dryads thrashed, and to unseen saviors screamed. Excepting, strangely, for Allegiance, Obedience, and Suffrage, whose cries were not those of pain but of purest rapture.
¶LXIII. The Maenads recoiled their whips, and then began to fondle and grope at the Dryads, and with their fingers probed deeply between the Dryads’ legs. In anguish Duress sobbed, whilst Accord, Servility, and Obedience remained poised, feigning as if nothing at all were being done to them. Faith and Serenity were overcome by their shame, whilst Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage fondled their captors in return, praising them and begging aloud for their molestation to continue.
¶LXIV. After a time Allegiance, Obedience, and Suffrage were loosed from the dead trees to which they had been tied, and were taken by their leashes into the center of the dell, where quickly they began to service the Maenads. And so the other Dryads were left alone at the dell’s edge, still tethered to the deadwood as the last of the Maenads joined their sisters and their three Dryad slaves.
¶LXV. Servility then spake unto Faith: “Whatever hath brought thee here?”
¶LXVI. “We could not pay the tax, and we were found guilty of being in contempt of the law,” said Faith. “Why art thou here?”
¶LXVII. “I ate of the buds of the hemp tree,” Servility answered.
¶LXVIII. “Ye are not permitted to eat of certain plants?” asked Serenity.
¶LXIX. “ ‘Tis a small price to pay for freedom,” said Accord.
¶LXX. “What sort of ‘freedom’ dost thou call this?” answered Faith.
¶LXXI. “How can thou dare to question our freedom?” queried Obedience. “We have the freedom to think and believe whatever we wish, the freedom to say whatever we wish so long as it isn’t in contempt of the law, and doth not encourage anyone to break the law. We have the freedom to go wherever we wish and to do whatever we wish, so long as we do not break the law by wandering about without our trusses. We have even the freedom to eat whatever we wish, so long as what we wish to eat doth not include certain things that the law forbiddeth.”
¶LXXII. “How canst thou call thyself ‘free’ when thou art tied to a dead oak?” said Serenity.
¶LXXIII. “Because,” said Obedience, “I hath broken the law, and must serve my time. When I have paid for my crimes I shall once again be permitted to wander anywhere the Maenads allow.”
¶LXXIV. “And meanwhile thou shalt be contented with the Maenads’ violations against thee?” said Faith. “Thou wilt service them at the mercy of their whims?”
¶LXXV. “It is the duty of every denizen of the Somberwood,” answered Obedience, “to ask not what the Maenads can do for us, but what we can do for the Maenads.”
¶LXXVI. “Of course,” said Serenity, “for the Maenads hath done nothing for thee, nor for any of you, except place you under the thumb of the law.”
¶LXXVII. “If not for the law,” said Accord, still slightly bleeding from when the Maenads had cut her with their whips, “there would be violence. ‘Tis a matter of keeping the peace that the Maenads enforce the law. ‘Tis for our own safety.”
¶LXXVIII. “And thou,” said Faith, looking to Duress. “I saw thee when the Maenads were pawing and fingering thee. Thou wailed in misery, with tears pouring from thine eyes.”
¶LXXIX. “That is mine own fault,” replied Duress. “Look at Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage. They are happy because, even after having done wrong, they still love the Maenads and respect the law. If I could submit myself unto them and their law as Allegiance, Deference, and Suffrage do, then I might be happy as well. But instead of taking joy, I cry. Instead of respecting the law, I violate it, and so must I be violated in return, I’d suppose. Rather than loving the Maenads and enjoying the way they enjoy me, I instead twist it into a vile thing. I truly am a wretch.”
¶LXXX. “They are raping you,” said Faith.
¶LXXXI. “It is not rape,” said Duress. “The law says that I must consent. If I do not consent, then it is my own fault that I feel as I do now. We must all learn to follow the law.”
¶LXXXII. And nothing more was said, for it appeared that even Duress, whose dolor was most evident of all among them, was willing to resign herself entirely unto the law.