Thursday, October 14, 2010

I. The Icebound

             A man struggled across a glacier.  The Trumpeter had been watching him all morning.  At first the struggler was a tiny speck on the opal sheet of ancient ice but soon the watcher could see the frost and rime encrusted seal skins he wore and the massive obsidian stone chained to his neck.  Furthermore the man struggled his burden uphill, towards the painted peaks of the Wondering Mountains.  Certainly this was a person of determination.  Distantly, at the very edge of his vision, the Trumpeter could now make out more specks. 
            After making sure that his trumpet, a long tapering horn of silvery metal, was properly shined, the Trumpeter moved to greet his visitor.
            “Is it valuable?” asked the Trumpeter as the man dragged the stone across the ice.
            “Very,” responded the man, his breath steaming out from a sardonic turn in his mouth.  “You can have it if you could just help me carry it a while.”
            “Oh, I have no need for worldly possessions, excepting my trumpet of course,” said the Trumpeter with pride.  “You can call me the Trumpeter.”
            “You don’t wear sealskin; where are you from Trumpeter?” asked the man as he took a moment to look up, past the madman he was talking to, towards the old and forbidden peaks beyond.
            “Oh, up there,” gestured the Trumpeter, pointing back behind himself. 
            “I was told only ghosts and sorcerers lived up there.”
            “There are no more sorcerers,” stated the Trumpeter with a sudden solemnity.  “You know that.”
            “I do,” rasped the man.  “I do.”
            “And does everyone wear such jewelry where you come from stranger?” asked the Trumpeter changing the topic.
            “No,” laughed the exhausted man.  “No, I come from a village where there is nothing to do but hunt the albino narwhals which inhabit the sound and to plot against your neighbors.  It’s just back the way I came.”
            The man pointed down the slope, along the rut his stone had made, to the distant edge of sight where he too now saw those same specks the Trumpeter had, and his voice trailed off.
            Deciding that the struggling man was more interesting alive than dead the Trumpeter helped lift the weight and together they waddled further up the slopes, towards crowns jagged and cerulean.  With great ease the Trumpeter found a slip in the ice and there they watched the hunting party sift about, looking for more tracks.  The long teeth of their narwhal tusk lances pricked into the brightness of the late and chilly morning. 
            “Tell me, are yours a musical folk?” asked the Trumpeter as it became evident that the hunters were better trackers than he had wagered.
            “That would be too decadent for them, to be sure,” responded the man.
            “And all the men are presumably fearless?” continued the Trumpeter, whetting his lips.
            “We fear nothing but ghosts, sorcerers and well-reasoned thoughts,” replied the man, all full of curiosity about what his mad companion would do next.
            He hadn’t long to wait as the Trumpeter burst from their hiding place, the long tresses of his ceremonial scarf tangling into the air.  He placed his instrument to his lips and drove a sound pure as terror down the side of the mountain, across the blue-white of the glacier, and deep into the hearts of the searchers. 
            In the moment it took for the sound to peal through the great bay the searchers, brave men all, had turned and fled from the noisome horror of the mountain.  Even the pursued man would’ve run, if it weren’t for the stone linked to his neck.
            The sun had dipped low when the two tumbled into the frosted interior of a cave about halfway up the mountain.  They were each exhausted in their own way; the struggling man because his lungs were unaccustomed to the thinning air and the Trumpeter because he was unused to hard work.  Day and night were lost to them as this was the time of year where both ceased to exist, the sun never sinking lower in the purple sky than the edge of the horizon.
            “Tell me,” began the Trumpeter when his breath had mostly returned to him.  “Why so much effort to hunt one man?  You’re thin enough that you’d make a poor prize.”
            “Summer,” stated the stranger, his cold grey eyes staring up at the ceiling where odd dried things hung.  “I wondered aloud that Summer might exist and the others, they heard me as I came back with my catch.” 
            “This is why you were cast out?” pondered the Trumpeter, acknowledging the transgression of the taboo word. 
            “No.  No, when confronted my old evil spirit touched me once again and I claimed that they were all fools and as loathsome as  seal dung, but not half as useful.  I went on to mention that their women were scandalized by their lack of hunting prowess, unfaithful, and well, so forth.  My words caught such fire that my peers chained me to the stone of shame and sent out to die.  But I wouldn’t die.  I realized I was free, free to find Summer.”
            The cave was silent and mostly dark after the man finished his story.  Something of the last word lay heavy on the mind of the Trumpeter.
            “Surely you would’ve died if I had not found you.  From the cold if not from the hunters.”  At this the chained man half rose up quickly.  In the dark his cold eyes shone brightly.
            “Never!” he stated stubbornly.  “No cold can fell me, that’s why they sent out the hunters.  They knew.  They were scared.  None of the other outcasts ever went toward the Wondering mountains.  Fear of my revenge, fear of what I might be consorting with drove them to chase me.”
            “You mean, like me?” replied the Trumpeter after a few intense seconds.
            “Imagine my disappointment,” said the man, his intensity waning with fatigue through which he smiled bleakly.  “I can only imagine the tizzy of the village right now; all their fool minds rattling.”
            “So that makes you an outcast.  In fact, that’s what I’ll call you: the Outcast.”
            “I suppose it will have to do,” sighed the Outcast before his mind drifted to the smells of the strange things in the cave.  Weeds and flowers and old pungent roots, those were the things hanging from the ceiling.  There was something to be remembered about this place, the Outcast knew in his keen mind to be wary for some reason, but something between the chase, the climb and the strange reagents filling the old cave quietly lulled him to sleep as his companion prattled on, none the wiser.

            The Outcast awoke to ribbons of light streaming in from the jagged cave mouth and to thoughts, perhaps formed from a dream or the half-heard ponderings of his companion, playing in his mind.  Certainly this was part of the lingering enchantment left by the previous resident he thought to himself.  Outside he found the Trumpeter standing upon a jutting rock staring at the gauzy folds of the clouds above.
            “I need you to take me beyond the painted peaks,” stated the Outcast, trying to see whatever it was that the Trumpeter was looking for.
            “That’s madness,” stated the strange tall mountain man.  “My people never ventured passed the peaks, unspeakable horrors are all you’ll find.  In fact, that was the second most important duty of my people; keeping lunatics such as yourself out so that whatever waited beyond wouldn’t be made curious by uninvited guests.”
            “What was your first most important task,” asked the Outcast.  To which the Trumpeter flourished his instrument and made ready another hellish blast from it’s pristine workings.  This distressed the burdened man greatly.
            “I see, I see,” he said, interrupting the performance.  “You must know what lies over these mountains.”
            “Nothing,” replied the Trumpeter playing with a frayed end of his scarf.  “From the top, only mist can be seen, and the arms, of course.  Corpses frozen since the dawn of time.”
            The Outcast considered all these possibilities and sat down on a flat patch of blue snow pressed almost clear by the work of centuries.
            “What did your people say of the lands down by the great sound?” searched the Outcast, pointing to the place where his home once was.
            “Oh, only demons and bloodthirsty cannibals would make their home so close that abyss of sea hags and water witches.”
            “And what did I say my villagers thought of these mountains?” continued the Outcast adjusting his chains.
            “Something about ghosts and sorcerers...” began the Trumpeter as what little sense he had brought him back from the clouds.  Considering this juxtaposition he took time in speaking.
            “I concede the point, but under protest; there truly are hideous creatures that live in the mist.  It was a band of such horrors that butchered my people not two weeks ago.”
            “Were these things of flesh and blood?” queried the Outcast, his mind feverishly working on this possibly tangible problem.
            “Quite, and they were after ours,” responded the Trumpeter realizing he was in the company of a man as deranged as himself.
            “Then I have no fear of them,” finalized the Outcast as he stood up and entered the cave, preparing for a further ascent of the mountain whose blue-going-to-purple peaks loomed high above.