MUSIC FOR A MOON-DARK NIGHT
He has been here for quite some time.
The young woman thought to herself, watching the dead man swinging idly in the bitter wind. With each new gust, the rope strained and creaked; Making the corpse twist casually, as though moving in some somber dance known only to the dead. The clouds driven at a fierce pace across the face of the waning moon, dappled his mottled face in moonlight and shadow. The trees moaned in deep profound tones, stirred by the same bitter wind that moved the hanged man. Beneath the sound and fury of the approaching storm, lay breathless anticipation tense still and waiting. Caught by a sudden chill, the dark cloaked figure wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head, as she did a lock of bone white hair escaped her hood .
No point in delaying.
She pushed the lock of hair back into the hood.
The night is passing and dawn will come all too soon, if it comes before I‘m done I‘ll have to find another corpse and start all over again.
Sighing, she pulled her cloak more tightly around her slender body and regarded the gruesome display before her with a more critical eye . The ravens’ had been at his eyes, and his cheeks, but the tongue remained. That was good, it was what she truly needed. After all without a tongue, even a dead man could tell no tales.
She stepped forward and took hold of his ankles. At that moment the wind came to an abrupt stop. The clouds released from their wild flight obscured the dying moon. A luminous eerie glow filled the deserted woodland crossroad. Into waiting silence, become thick with expectation, she spoke the rune. Words ancient beyond the count of years, that only another adept would understand, poured from her.
The silence shuddered.
Something. Shifted in the listening silence.
Something. Strained against the inky void of darkness.
Something. Moved along the forests gloomy edge.
The corpse made a soft strangled sound, that might have been a whimper. It's ruined sockets took on the air of awareness that so distinguishes the eyes of the blind.
It croaked in a strangled gasp that struggled to emerge from dead lungs, rotted vocal cords and a throat crushed and constricted by a dry noose.
It asked as though the universe had played some vast obscene joke, one with out any true humor at all.
"Damn you to Niflhelheem! why?"
"Because, you have knowledge I need." Her voice was steady and unfeeling as she stepped away she had no sympathy to expend on this husk.
The corpses hollow sockets, wept gore like a mockery of tears as it spoke in a petulant tone.
"You know the way of it. Ask me your questions and I will answer as I can."
It took her only a moments consideration, then she asked.
"Why was I born marked?
Who was it that marked me?
What must I do to be freed of the curse under which I live?"
The hanged man, head tilted at an odd angle, considered the girl from his empty sockets as he twisted languidly upon the rope. At last in a soft raspy whisper, a leer on his ruined face he said.
"You have chosen to wake me. So I must answer your questions, but I may name a price. Yet, for the sake of your beauty I'll allow you this one chance to leave. How say you?"
The woman shivered considering the subtle threat implicit in the corpses statement. Drawing upon all of her will, she lifted her head to a proud angle, her eyes regarding the hanged man with detached hauteur. In a voice as intractable and alluring as the arms of the white Lady whose name the living can not know she said.
" Name the price you choose but have done with threats and innuendo, I‘m not so easily intimidated."
A grin replaced the leer on his ruined face.
"Very well then this is my price. You must bring me down from this tree and out of the crossroad, then you shall remove the noose from my neck and finally, I claim a kiss of you. Will you fulfill these things? Do you dare?, Swear it now and my answers are yours."
"I do so swear before the three faces of Mani and the fourth face none has seen" This was the most somber oath known to her or her mothers people, and bound her body and soul, living or dead, to fulfill the dead mans requests.
"Know this then, two of your questions have a single answer and this answer touches upon the third. That witch marks you is a sign and a legacy of him that fathered you; it is because of his nature you have been marked. He alone may give you the third answer you seek, yet he lays in the arms of the White Lady and had for many years before you were conceived. So I will answer the question thusly. Seek out the halls where the ghost fires dances. There you will claim your inheritance, in one form or another. Is this satisfactory answer to your questions?"
"The first and second answers are satisfactory but the third you answer me as a riddle dead man, nonetheless I know what you have said and I will not forget. Now I will pay you as I am sworn to."
The young woman drew a long plain dagger, well made and of excellent balance. The slender steel blade flashed white in the eerie light as she threw it at the rope with a flick of the wrist. The dagger flew straight and true; severing the rope where it was tied to a low broken branch of the tree then stuck into the trunk with a faint thunk. The corpse hit the packed earth of the roadside with a startled grunt and lay still. Turning she approached the tree and yanked the dagger out of it, then she went and looked down at the corpse. Taking the rope still hanging from the branch above she cut it and let the part attached to the hanged man fall. Wiping the dagger and returning it to it’s sheath she knelt and tucking her arms underneath the corpses tattered frame; she drew a deep breath and lifted. He wasn't too heavy and the stiffness of the White Lady's kiss had long since left him. Still he stank of that horribly cloying sweet, nauseatingly floral scent so characteristic of the dead. His limbs flopped about like so much dead weight and It was a matter of some effort to drag him into the trees. Some feet off of the road she leaned him against a tree in order to ease the strain in her lower back. The corpses head lolled on its chest in an unappealing way and he frowned; then in a growl said.
"Further away! further from the crossroad. And hurry!"
The urgency in his voice caused a prickle of suspicion to run along her spine. She shifted the corpse and said.
“I'm moving you as I can."
Then wrapping her arms around him so her hands joined over his chest she dragged him another few feet. By this time they were almost beyond sight of the crossroad and the corpse said softly.
"Stop this is far enough it will do.”
So with a sigh of relief she dropped him onto the forest floor.
“Now! remove the noose and give me the kiss you promised."
His voice had gained strength a strange vitality seemed to have crept into it.
With silent grace she knelt beside the corpse and pulling her dagger slid it between the noose and the broken mockery of his neck. With another quick flick of her wrist the noose fell away, and in that same moment she bent to kiss it.
The kiss was intended to fall full upon it’s ruined lips but instead encountered the knuckles of a bony fist which had swung up to greet her with a strength she would never have imagined possible. As she fell back the corpse moved like a striking snake grabbing her ankle and rolling over on top of her.
“Now for my kiss!”
He crowed grabbing at her hands in an effort to pin them down. His neck suddenly able to support his head; his arms and legs no longer useless he wriggled up her body in a boneless fashion, until he rested between her legs like a lover. Pulling back the hand with the dagger in it she slashed at the corpses face and neck, but it did almost nothing to stop him as he smirked down at her.
“Oh come now sweating you should know that will do nothing to me as the dead can’t be killed.?”
He ground his hips into her as he spoke and she fought all the harder.
“I’m going to have the kiss you promised and so much more of you besides and that dagger can’t stop me!”
One of his hands was placed on the ground holding him up so he could gaze at her out of the ravaged pits where his eyes had been, with the other he reached up and grabbed at her breasts.
“So sweet so ripe I can smell the life just under your skin!”
The corpse was panting as he leaned down pressing her body into the forest floor, as he did she gasped her eyes going wide in terror. Then he bent his head and kissed her full on the mouth.
Instinctively she pressed her lips together.
She counted in her head until the corpse lifted his mouth from hers. Then she gasped out.
The dead man froze in astonishment.
The corpse screamed and leaped off her. She shouted as loudly as she could.
“HOW! How could you know? I never met you I would remember that!”
He crouched hands raised as if to ward her off. Sitting up she stared at the dead man out of glinting red eyes then lifted a slender long fingered hand to push her white hair back out of her heart shaped face and she smiled tightly.
“It wasn’t hard Halfgan to find out the name of a man hanged at this crossroad, and in the case of a man hanged for the rape and murder of his twelve year old stepdaughter gossip travels far and wide.”
Pulling herself to her feet and brushing off the leaves and dirt that still clung to her cloak she considered the corpse with interest.
“Did you really think I would know how to summon you and not how to abjure you, I spent two days in service to the crone of red hill learning how to summon you, and a day learning how to send you back.”
Smiling wider at the memories she continued
“She called me wise you know? She said most people are foolish enough to seek her out to learn how to raise the dead, but that few are wise enough to ask her how to put them back when they no longer have need of them.”
Her smile had changed as she spoke until it was cold and as distant as the moon.
“I have no further use for you Halfgan.”
As she said this Halfgan fell to his knees and groaned.
“Wait!…please! I can.. serve you!”
He gasped his hands held out in supplication.
She asked softly.
“How sweet and bitter the irony that you will beg for your existence.”
The corpse flung itself at her feet.
“Please please I do beg you don’t send me back to the
White Lady! I can do many….”
But she cut him short.
“Did she beg Halfgan?”
Halfgan paused and tilted his ruined face up.
“What?” He asked, confused.
Did she beg you to stop when you raped her?
Did she beg you not to hurt her?
Did she beg for her life before you strangled her to death?!” Silence fell like cloak around them as the corpse rose to his knees then in a dry whisper.
Halfgan tilted his head as if considering something.
“Yes she begged. It was sweet and I felt so powerful.”
The woman stepped back and lifted her hand in a dismissing gesture.
“Halfgan! By your name I command and constrain you to depart this world and return to the arms of the White Lady, may she give you the mercy you deserve.”
The corpse grunted as if he had been punched in the chest so that all the air left it in a rush and then it pitched over into a collapsed heap of rapidly decomposing flesh.
The wind suddenly came whipping through the trees released from the arcane hold of the rune of wakening the dead, and the clouds that had settled into the expected storm broke with a clap of distant thunder. As the rain came down in sudden sheets the young woman thought to her self.
Well that’s just as is could be expected for my luck isn’t it.
Turning with a deep sigh she walked back towards the crossroad.
Now it’s a wet! and long! walk home for me. Well at least the bandits and cut throats will all be in on a night like this, I should count my blessings as aunt Rea always says.
Then she laughed.