Northblood

This page is a bit of an experiment.  As you may or may not know in my constantly seeking inspiration and the proverbial kick up the butt to keep myself writing, I take part in a number of prompt challenges.

One I have recently started is Sue Vincents writephoto challenge. In her words it is:

Every Thursday at noon GMT, I publish one of my photos as a writing prompt.  If you know where the photo was taken, please keep it to yourself until the challenge is closed. I usually share something about the place during the round-up.

At first – like my other challenges – I wrote poetry for this. But then suddenly – one day a short piece of fiction jumped out on me. It was a mystery where it came from or what it meant – but it intrigued me greatly. It was almost like somebody else had written it and I wanted to know where it was going.

With that in mind, I have since tried to keep the story going – though the photos have sometimes made that challenging – in a good way – so it has developed in some unexpected ways.

I am going to try and keep it up to produce a whole story – so if you want to follow on – I will be appending each piece on this page.

Let’s see how far I get!


The Dark

By Scott Bailey © 2018

He stood in the mouth of the cave and breathed in the sweet morning air. He was right on the junction of the entrance – he could feel the cold air behind him, the warm before.

It was a natural balance he appreciated.

The cave had been a good find. It was warm at night and inaccessible to larger animals. Not too difficult to get to for him – but a challenge.

The warmth was important, he could no longer risk fires. Not for a while anyway. Maybe he could work something out eventually – how would probably need to before winter arrived.

If he survived that long.

He shook himself, discarding that line of thought. He had survived this long. This latest setback was just another challenge.

It was a rather large one though.

He felt the wood of his spear shaft starting to warm in the morning sun. It’s smoothness satisfied him as he ran his fingers along it. Hours of care had been worth it. He reached the tip and checked the sharpness of the flint head carefully. It was still good. He had a stash of spares in the cave ready.

He squatted down and run his fingers over the fine gravel that was scattered on the small ledge before the mouth of the cave. He brought it to his nose. It felt and smelt freshly wet – more than dew – there must have been a light rain overnight, that would account for the freshness of the air. That would make the path down from the cave more dangerous, but it should also bring out more game.

He stood, cocked his head and listened intently in the darkness. He could hear many birds circling and far below, many beasts on the plain. Yes, hunting would be good today. Challenging – but the opportunity was there.

Another sound caught his attention and a scent, faint but unmistakable.

Somebody was approaching!

He shifted his stance, dropped into defensive readiness and waited.

This would be the first real challenge he had faced since he had lost his sight two days ago.

He was determined it would not be his last.


Footsteps

By Scott Bailey © 2018

The fear she had been holding back pounded in her chest. Her heart thudded, her breath constricted.

All this time alone, she had been ignoring it, holding it at bay. It had not been difficult. The trials of survival had occupied her. That had been hard enough. Any weakness, any giving into fear, could trip her up. And it might be her final step.

It had been four moons since the storm, the sudden tumult that raised the sea against them, taken every one of the clan.

Everyone she had ever known.

Since then she had walked this land alone, swinging between throwing herself into the sea after her family, and desperately fighting for survival without really knowing why.

Since the storm the weather had been warm and calm, which was good as she had not made any effort to create or find shelter. All she had done was wander and find food.

She was no hunter, but she knew how to forage. She knew where to find fruits and roots that were good to eat. How to find fresh water.

And she could fish. That she could do!

Which was why she had hung by the beach. Though the sea now held an ill-boding threat to her, dark memories threatening to overwhelm her, it was also her only provider.

Her clan had always lived by the coast, travelled along it, living off the plenty of the great water.

Habit, as much as necessity, guided her path now.

Until now.

Footsteps rocked her daze. Shook her out of the fugue she had lived in since the tempest had departed.

They stretched away from her in the sand. They must be fresh, the tide would wash them away.

They led off inland, she followed them with her gaze.

In the distance, far inland, across rolling hills, there rose a dark cliff. In the face of that cliff was a cave.


The Discovery

By Scott Bailey © 2018

This was what she lived for – this moment! She had been waiting half her life for it.

She stood at the entrance – entranced. She was almost afraid to take a step further, both savouring the moment and fearing a disappointment.

The tunnel looked old – and it was. But it was nothing she had not seen a thousand times before. It was what lay beyond that had drawn her here.

The tunnel before here was from over a millennia ago. There were many of them scattered around the area. She was as familiar with them as any archaeologist – there had some frisson about them, some mystery as nobody really knew what they had been made for. That, of course, led to many wild theories.

She had no interest in mad theories and folk tales. She was only interested in hard facts. And if what she had been told was true – there would some remarkable finds here.

Three weeks ago, some tourists wandering the tunnels had nearly been killed when one of the walls and part of the floor had clasped. They had revealed something darker and older than the tunnels.

Much older.

Two days ago a colleague of hers had rung her to get her advice on what had been found. When she heard what he described she snatched up her passport – nothing else – and had booked the first flight she could get to see for herself.

Now she was here. She took a deep breath and gripped her torch tightly, then she took a purposeful step inward.

It was a five-minute walk to the scene of the near tragedy. The place was cordoned off with police tape and officers were stationed there. They nodded to her and waved her in. All the locals were excited about the discovery and wanted to know more. They were waiting on her opinion.

She looked into the hole made by the collapse. A vast darkness spread out before here, water dripped into it. Some lights had been hastily strung up on the walls but they were not enough to reach out the full extent of what was obviously a large cave.

A rope ladder stretched downward into the darkness.

This was it.

Holstering her torch she climbed deftly down the ladder. More lights lit the way revealing the wet, jagged wall before here.

When she reached the bottom she found several other people already there. Student by the look of them busy taking careful measurements and photos, but not disturbing anything.

Before them stood an older man – her friend. He was grinning widely.

“Well?”

“This is it?” she whispered.

“This is it,” he murmured in almost reverent tones.

She looked around in awe.

“It’s natural,” she said. He nodded.

“And the evidence for human habitation?” she went on. He grinned again and waved her to a spot where the students were concentrated.

“Here, take a look.”

She knelt down carefully and shone her torch. There, unmistakable to her eyes, was a loose pile of flint spearheads and other tools.

“Is this everything?” she said eagerly – it was enough for her.

“There’s a few other finds but this is the best so far. We have only covered about a quarter of the floor so far.” He smiled wryly now as he saw the light of excitement in her eyes.

“And the walls?”

Now he looked puzzled.

“Well, we haven’t..” he started.

She stood and swept the beam of her torch slowly around the walls.

And stopped.

“Holy crap!” swore the man.

There, high on the cave wall, was the clearest, most detailed cave painting she had ever seen. It was of two distinct figures. Unlike anything she had ever seen before they were almost portrait like in their detail!

One was a young woman holding a spear. The other was a man. A man with no eyes.


Steel

By Scott Bailey © 2018

Splash!

The water leapt into the air, droplets glinting in the sunlight.

The man watched – was it magic he saw shining there? Was it the blessing he sought?

The water settled quickly and somewhat disappointingly. Through the shimmering ripples, he could see his heavy chain shifting, sinking slowly into the mud.

He sighed. He would miss it. It had been in his family for many generations. It has served them all well.

He had not wanted to part with it.

But he was desperate and the gods needed an offering.

So he had cast it into the holy pool.

He would miss it, but he had nothing else to offer.

Maybe, just maybe the fact that it meant so much to him, that this was a real sacrifice, would be enough.

He watched as the water became calm once more. Ruffled only by the breeze and the slow current of the stream that fed it. Waiting for a sign.

Nothing happened.

He looked up at the druid. The man studied the pool for a few minutes more than shook his head.

Nothing! What a damned waste. He started to turn away in disgust. As he did something glinted. A flash from deep in the pool, in the heart of the coils made by his sunken chain.

There was something there!

He glanced up at the druid for guidance. This was a holy pool, here offering were made – not given back.

But the druid seemed as surprised as he, and excited. He motioned towards the pool.

That was enough, he stepped into the water, thrust his arms between the chain coils and gently cleared away the mud.

It was soon very clear what he had found. It was a sword, not broken, so not an offering that had been cast here. It was whole and as he lifted it from the water it shone. It was clean and undamaged. It might have only been placed here yesterday.

It was of a strange colour. A golden hilt and pommel, but the blade was reddish gold. Like nothing he had ever seen.

He passed it to the druid who wiped it dry on his robe and studied the blade for a long while.

Finally, he spoke.

“The gods have given. This gift is for you. You have been answered.”

“Answered? How?” he replied. How would a sword help him? He knew nothing of fighting – he was not a warrior.

“That will be revealed in time,” muttered the druid. “Maybe they will come to guide you.”

He pointed to the engraving on the blade.

There, he could see two figures. A woman and a man. A man with no eyes.


Northblood

By Scott Bailey © 2018

Ilaria regarded the stairs with apprehension. Should she ascend them? There was something about all this? Something she could not explain rationally and that disturbed her. She was a scientist! Her life was all about explanations.

So she hesitated.

Actually, she was not being honest with herself. She was an archaeologist and in that field, explanations were not always forthcoming. In fact, she prided herself on her tendency to refrain from explanations. To her facts were what she found. A pile of swords in a pool was just that – a pile of swords in a pool. They might be in a broken state or not. What she did not do – what she insisted on – was starting down a flight of fancy trying to imagine – or theorise on what it all meant. Was it ritual? Or a treasure hoard? In the end, there was no way of knowing. So it was best left at that – an unknown.

So why did this whole mystery upset her equilibrium?

It was that face in the caves. That ancient figure from a time so long ago it was a miracle that it still survived.

It was the contradictions in the figure. When they had discovered it she had enthused to her colleagues about the clarity and detail of the painting – and it was all true. The figures truly surpassed anything else she had seen that was contemporary or even later. Yet, by modern standards it was crude.

And still.

That figure of the man. It seemed to stare right through you. Look down through the ages and into your soul. Despite the fact it had no eyes.

And now this sword. She had seen the photo’s and there was no doubt in her mind – the figure was the same.

So she had pleaded and begged this visit – to see it for real. The owner had been reluctant – to say the least. He had even denied its existence.

It had taken a photo of the cave painting in return to convince him.

And still, she hesitated.

“Ms, Neri?”

Her guide, looking for all the world like an old-time butler, waited by the stairway. She had come all this way to Paris, to this opulent mansion, to this private collection.

She took a deep breath and nodded. The guide led her up the sweeping curve of the stairs.

They walked down a hallway, lined with many fine pictures which she guessed were worth a small fortune each. They came to a heavy, modern security door. The guide discreetly entered a code and, she thought she detected, used a fingerprint to unlock the door.

They stepped into a small, dimly lit room. In the centre was a hexagonal glass case. Hanging in the case was the sword.

It did not look ancient. It did show signs of use but could have been twenty or so years old. The hilt certainly looked like it had been replaced.

But the rest – it drew her in. The deep rose gold of the metal had a deep lustre, as though light was lost in it, swallowed to another place deep within the blade where it ebbed, reaching out for reprieve.

And, there, on the blade, was the figure, the eyeless man.

She shook herself, immediately started to see the signs that told her the design, the origin of the blade. It certainly, at first glance, looked to be something designed in the early iron age. Yet it also looked far too unscathed.

Was this a replica?

She asked the guide.

“No,” he said. “This is the real blade. I understand your confusion – but let me assure you – it has been aged correctly.”

“Was it found near here?” she ventured – it was a test. The was not Gaulish if she was correct.

“No,” he replied. “We have traced its earliest findings to Wales.”

She nodded, that chimed true to her.

“Is that why your master is so cloak and dagger? Does he think the Welsh agitators might want it back? As a symbol?”

The man paused for a long time. Finally, he spoke again, carefully.

“No. No doubt you’re right, they would demand it back. This sword is not unknown though few know that it really exists. Many historians in fact equate to a more well known sword of Welsh origin. They are mistaken – that name does not belong to this blade – it has another.”

She looked at him quizzically

“It is called Northblood.”

Before she could ask how he knew that he seemed suddenly to remember something. He went to the case and flicked a switch on the base. The sword began to rotate slowly. She watched, mesmerized as the light glinted on the strange red metal. Then she gasped as the other side of the blade came into view.

There was the figure of the woman, the same woman from the caves.

What the hell connected this sword to that cave – the time distance was fantastic!

“Well? You are the only person alive to have seen both this sword and the cave paintings. Do they indeed match?”

She nodded slowly. They did. She was so shocked by what she had discovered here that it took a few moments to realise that it had not been her guide who had spoken. It had been a much deeper and richer voice.

She whirled around.

There stood an imposing figure. A middle-aged man, well built and with strong shoulders over which he wore a coat like a cloak. A bristling, greying beard on a broad strong face. He leant his heavy frame on a sturdy black cane.

And though he has deep grey eyes it was immediately obvious.

He was blind.


The Sculptor

By Scott Bailey © 2018

He stood back, took in his work, and smiled.

Yes. He was getting there. He was satisfied.

He was almost finished.

He knew that nobody else would see it. No one in this place understood. They would not see what he could see. They would only see a couple of boulders, barely touched by him.

But he knew. His subtle touches revealed the shapes that were there. The two figures, watching waiting – poised. Ancient figures known now only to a few, their stories passed down through the generations.

Stories many did not believe – of wonder and dread.

Stories of The Hunter, The Eyeless Man and a magical weapon that defied time.

Northblood.


avenue

The Avenue

By Scott Bailey © 2018

This was the second time Ilaria had walked down this Avenue of trees today. Earlier it had been bright sunshine and lush green grass. Now it was grey and blue in the moonlight.

Then, he had walked with her. The Count. She had learned he was a Count almost immediately. It had amused her mildly. She had followed all the clues and they had led her to a castle where a Count lived.

It has all the makings of a horror movie. Or maybe a quaint period romance.

She had no taste for either. She rarely read fiction. She preferred a good textbook, preferably history.

Somehow he had known that.

She had badgered him with questions which he deftly danced all around and avoided with politeness. As she talked, he walked. Moving at a leisurely pace. She noticed that despite his age – she guessed around mid-fifties he seemed quite fit. Moved with a strong, feline confidence.

She barely noticed that they left the darkness of his personal museum and found themselves strolling in the dappled sunlight beneath the trees.

When she did she also realised that, despite his blindness, he had not faltered once. He had been sure-footed and need no guide.

She stopped. Taking in the implications.

“You have lived here all your life?” It was the only explanation, he must know the place intimately.

“As have my family for several generations.” he smiled, amused at her question.

“A French Count.” she mused.

“An English title, my family moved here many years in the past, the title came with them and stayed.”

“And you? You have stayed here, never left?”

“Oh, I have travelled in my time, all over the world.” There was sadness in his voice now. Maybe he had not always been blind? Did he mourn the loss of all the sites he had seen?

She pushed on with her quest for answers though.

“Is that where you collected all those weapons?”

“No, that was not me. That was father’s passion. I don’t really care for the collection – it holds no interest to me.”

“Except for that sword.” There could be no denying his interest in that sword. It had pride of place n his house.
He smiled wryly, as is admiring her insight. He nodded.

“Yes, except that sword.”

“Was that one of your father’s acquisitions?”

“It was. One of his last.” he began walking again, drawing her down the avenue.

“He never knew what he had, he dies shortly after bringing home.”

“But you do?” she said. “You know what is special about it. What is it? And what are those figures?”

He stopped again, turned and faced her. He sighed and appeared to be considering his answer. Finally, he spoke again.

“I know your type. You are obsessed with facts – with explanations, not mystery.”

She bristled at this description of herself, to the way he had pigeonholed her, she wanted to dispute it, but she didn’t know what to say. She realised that he had hit the mark.

He went on.

“You want answers, explanations. I am not sure I can give you that. What I can tell you, you would not believe.”

“Try me,” she said. Something about all this had hooked her. She needed the answers in a way she had never felt before. Her calm assessment of everything that had gone before in her life seemed to have been washed away by this sudden, irrational obsession. Though it frightened her – she found she could not turn back any more.

So her heart lurched when he answered.

“No.”

She began to protest but he held up his hand.

“I cannot tell you in any way you would accept. Therefore, I must show you. Meet me here again, this exact spot at midnight.”

She almost snorted, almost derided all this theatrical nonsense. Almost walked away from it all.

But he did not give her the chance. He whirled around and stalked away from her, leaving her open-mouthed.

So she found herself back beneath the trees in the cool night, wondering if she were starting to go mad.

“Are you ready to open your eyes?”

She jumped in fright. The count had come up beside her in silence.

The air felt chill now. Yet, somehow, in spite of the situation, she did not feel any threat from him.

“What are we waiting for?” she asked, trying to keep the scepticism from her voice.

He pointed his cane down the avenue.

Where two faint white figures approached. They were misty and translucent and seemed to be sunk in the ground up to their waists.

She stepped back several paces in fear. What the hell! They looked for all the world like ghosts approaching them.

The air felt colder still.

This could not be! She whirled around looking up in the trees for the light of a projector.

“This is no illusion!” said the Count. “Take all the time you need to confirm that after, but for now – attend closely.” He nodded in the direction of the approaching figures.

She could see them more clearly now. They were indeed sunk up to their waists into the earth. But they seemed not to notice. They ran as if it were not there.

They were figures from the most ancient of times. Almost naked, wearing simple animal hides. Their hair wild. They both carried spears, wooden with flint heads.

They passed her. The nearest was a young woman, barely an adult. The other was an older, man. He looked strong but worn by time. Somehow, despite the fact that he was not eyeless, she could tell that he, like the Count, was blind.


pinnacle

Heirloom

By Scott Bailey © 2018

 

She had run from the stately home – from ghosts and strange blind men – both alive and dead.

But not far. She had very quickly got hold of herself. Now she sat outside a provincial coffee shop sipping the best she’d tasted for some time.

As she drunk she stared at the place in the distance. Turrets rising from the darkness like the beginning of some gothic horror movie.

Only now she knew the ghosts were real.

How she knew that she was not sure. It went against everything she had ever believed, against the grain of her fundamental seeking for truths.

But she did not doubt what she had seen.

So, that is how he found her, sipping coffee, staring at his home.

Vaguely, she wondered at that. Had she stumbled straight into his favourite place? Had he had her followed? Again, she noted that he seemed to need no guide. He must be familiar with this place as well.

He sat across the table from her and waited.

“Who are they,” she asked eventually.

He smiled wryly and lifted one shoulder and a strange shrug.

“That is the question. One there has been no answer to. All I can tell you is that through all the stories, down through the years – beyond history – they are there – along with the sword. With Northblood.”

“Stories? Do you have them all?”

“All, that are known of,” he replied. “There are gaps in time, and as I said, they go beyond written history.”

Again, for no apparent reason, she believed him.

“Will you tell me them?”

“I will,” he nodded. He signalled to a waiter and ordered himself a coffee. Then he resumed.

“But if you are seeking truths, stories will not suffice. You must take more, you must take responsibility.”

She cocked her head at that.

“What do you mean?”

“It is time Northblood was held by new hands.”

“You want me to have the sword?”

He nodded, then added more quietly.

“But there is a cost.”


conflagration

Wielder

By Scott Bailey © 2018

He sat staring too the horizon. Waiting. Occasionally he would sharpen the sword that sat against his thigh.

The sky was bathed in fire. It was a sign. He was sure.

The metal felt warm in the sunlight. He caressed it. He was sure of his fate now.

He had never wielded a sword before. When this one had been gifted him from the sacred pool, he had put it away safe. Never thinking he would need it. Never thinking he would want to.

Now he had no real need for it. But he wanted too.

He has been away. Delivering corn downriver to another village who had need of it.

That’s when they came. Invaders from the north.

They had taken his family. Everyone one, slaughtered. He had nothing left.

Nothing but revenge.

He had been a farmer. No more. He knew he was no warrior, knew his life would most likely end this night. The invaders were returning, rumour preceded them. He scanned the horizon where their dark figures would appear.

No, he would not survive the night. But this blade, this fiery, beautiful blade, would earn its name tonight.

Tonight, it would drink northern blood.


 

Remains

By Scott Bailey © 2018

“This was where you found it?” Ilaria said brushing her fingers along the smooth stone bones. “It doesn’t look that old.”

“My father found it,” he corrected it, “and it’s not. At least this isn’t.”

He nodded at the stone skeleton that adorned the tomb.

“This is a reconstruction of the original that had been badly damaged.”

Ilaria shuddered at the thought and again he surprised her by noticing. She wondered if he were really blind.

“Those Victorian’s did not share our modern obsession with preservation,” he smiled.

“Who was he?” she asked

“One of the past wielders. A French lord. There are many myths surrounding him, most of which involve sword fights. Most sound ridiculous to most people. You will find them – easier to accept in time.”

She frowned, wondering what that meant. He went on.

“The sword was found in his tomb. His enemies buried him with it.”

“It survived the fight then?”

“He did not die fighting. He died of old age.”

She stared at the detailed – almost lifelike stone carving. Lifelike! Ha!

But it was exquisite  – if it was accurate the man must have been an imposing figure. Certainly tall.

“He was undefeated then,” she observed.

“Death claimed him eventually, even Northblood cannot stay that blade. He lived a long life, spinning his own stories. It is from him we got many of the tales of other wielder’s. They do not seem to have lived such charmed lives as he. But in the end, he died alone, an old blind man.”

 

 

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