The Roar of the Sun

Journal Entry: Black Fox Inn

There’s something about the marshy flatlands of the world that changes the people that choose to live there. The sky is always framed in whipped white flattops, rain ever present, evening always emerging from the stray corners of the flat black tarns and hedge tangles that hold court on the flat, eternal horizon. Stay long enough and you begin to think there is no other place, that the world has suddenly been carved up into labyrinth alleys of mires and thickets that erupt without reason from the lonesome wet soil.

Marry the strangeness of such wastes to a need to add years to your life by the whims of unnatural means, and you will always wake up inside a straw floored hut, pig dung mired on your boots.

"It will paint roses on your cheeks, my love," the crone said flatly, "if it doesn’t kill you first." Her long silver locks were an illusion. Yes, they were beautiful liked pressed satin, but it was ruined by her lopsided face. The left was wrinkled to be sure, but the right was frozen, the corner of that lip wilted, drooling like a weeping fungus. Was that my destiny too? How could such a figure claim to be an authority on potions of eternal youth? Maybe this was one big grim jest set up by the mages I hounded, mages I bribed for the whereabouts of this gnarled woman.

"Drink it while its fresh, milady. Wait too long and your quest, your gold will be for naught. These herbs do not grow everyday. Especially the rare toadstools. Once a decade. Fate placed you here at exactly the right time. But do you have the nerve to trust fate?"

To be honest, I wanted to turn away from her withered, skeletal hand, vanish beyond the folds of her deerskin door flap, and trust my family’s legacy to age me slowly. But the crone had reason in her words. Strong reason. I had, indeed, wasted quite a bit of coin on the reagents, stuff she didn’t want to sell at the outset. But I had persuaded her with the weight of my purse, had I not? And now that action was staring back at me in the shape of an alchemical tea, shivering in the hands of my host.

I had dreamt of mountains of gold in a keep built of black stone. Dreamt of boxes of shining emeralds so bright that the wooden containers that imprisoned them would melt for their power; but such dreams take long expanses of time, and as we all know, time crawls when such plots are hatched.

My hand acted on its own accord.

I took the tea from the crone, wafted it under my nose, and with an ironic grin, upended the contents into my throat. No burn. But the concoction was foul, so foul that I heaved and wretched. But I would not vomit. To vomit was to loose the quest, to foul up my destiny in a flue of steaming offal. I held my breath so that I would not have to breath the nauseous odors of the tea.

Like waking from a stream of vivid dreams, and then closing your eyes only to open them again an hour later, I gave in to the power of the tea. The crone was stroking my hair, singing words to me, words of the marsh, words no mortal has ever uttered; I was puking into a black tarn, hacking and coughing while pine trees loomed over me, their woody fingers reaching for me; I flew high in the midnight clouds, dancing on moonbeams, chasing little people from star to star; and back again, the straw of the crone’s hut the most comfortable bedding I have ever slept on.

And then death, the grim specter, embraced me in his clammy robes, his frozen fingers locking around my neck like a lover about to die the little death.

I do not remember much from this point forward. I have impressions of cold stone, dark caverns, loud voices joined in a bellowing song that rebounded from wet walls, from the glittering laughter of a thousand candles. Who I was–Isobella–had died so long ago. Death’s fold had removed me from the slow creep of days, the even slower marches of night.

But then, I became again. Weak knees buckling under the weight of mortal form, I was pushed
forward into a press of warm faces gathered around a tavern keeper in the naked stones of a small village inn.

I have no answers but for this journal, a journal that even now, seems the stranger story of a foreign voice, a voice alien yet familiar–this voice I call me….

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