November 12, 2013 Tuesday (Or as Zoe and I will always refer to it: 11 12 13.)
I promised you a frightening tale and here it is. One of the most frightening tales I ever conceived.
Dwarf Love Song
Once, a long, long time ago when history was recorded in a different hand with a different voice in a land as yet uncorrupted by the ways of men, there lived an angry, discontented, and disaffected dwarf. Dwarves have never been known for their compassionate, equanimous natures, less so for their manners, and this particular dwarf was more misanthropic than others of his kind, perhaps even abnormally so. His choler when piqued was especially acute, infamous throughout the long green valley where the race of men grew their crops and in the deep mist-covered mountains where the race of dwarves toiled in search of precious rocks. His blood brethren found excuses to steer clear from his path, even during the days of gathering when the dwarf people reunite with kith and kin to drink, feast, sing, dance, and make merry until the first winter winds blow down from the icy mountaintops. Everyone called him ‘Daemon’ because of his foul temper and diabolical nature.
Daemon suffered terribly from his nature for howsoever much a dwarf complains about the company he keeps still it is company. Wine is sweeter and bread is softer when shared than when not. Such has it ever been and such will it ever be. Daemon as he grew older became not better with age but worse and finally his own people drove him from the mountains into the light of day, out of their hearts, and into the darkness of solitude, in which he lived for many years, growing older, greyer, and more hateful with each passing year. He would pass from one village to the next until the good people caught wind of his ways and then, like his family, would drive him away. His travels took him far from the land of his birth. He built a ramshackle home on the edge of a turbulent sea whose savage surf mirrored the violence in his own breast. The cruelty in his twisted soul grew. Eventually, his nature became so foul that even the vegetables in his small pathetic garden refused to grow and the arthritic goat he kept tethered to the withered oak tree by the edge of his field withheld her milk, her purple teats swelling, but stubbornly containing her milk until it soured in her body. Daemon knew he was coming to a bad end.
“There’s nothing for it. I must away. I’ve outworn my welcome here in this land among these peoples, even the natural world has begun to shun me. I’ve nothing but spite and malice for middle earth and myself and my life, such as it is.” Such is hate that it feeds not only on the world around, but also on the world within.
Daemon, at the end of his rope, did what most creatures do when confronted with life-threatening dilemmas: he fled. To what he did not know; to where he did not know. He only knew, deep in his bones, that to stay was to die. So, with that, Daemon boarded a fast ship and sailed across the gelid sea and came to a wintry land peopled by dwarves and giants, goblins and trolls, witches and vampyrs, talking asses and braying men (though it was hard to tell the difference twixt the two), sprites and fairies and elves, every imaginable race on this earth could be found across the gelid sea. Oh yes, even hobbits could be found in this far off land. It was like the land he knew, but different. They spoke in a tongue like the tongue he knew, only different. They ate their food with spices that were familiar, yet different. The change was a breath of fresh air and he welcomed the change as an opportunity to improve his station in life, and by improve he meant to divert the brutal course river of his soul into milder, more temperate tributaries. He had his work cut out for him.
Daemon threw himself into his work, but it was hard rowing, and the first year almost killed him. He was ready to fling himself into a bottomless abyss and condemn whatever remained of his black soul to fly up into the sky, if the sky would even accept such a burning malignant charred thing, when he met a curious little creature, a hobbit. He was working in his private smithy, forging a new blade, hatred and malice ringing with every blow, when suddenly, there she was. Small, wide-eyed, curious.
“What are you doing?” asked the hobbit.
“Get away from here you—” began Daemon, and he had an ox-weight of foul language that he was wont to let fly whenever he sensed that someone might irritate him. This time something stopped him. Hobbits are small folk and their race can be found all over middle earth, but they rare. Slowly they are dying, unsuited to the pace of the new life on middle earth and unlearned in the new magicks gobbling up the world with a wolf’s hunger. This hobbit was smaller than the average, which meant she was tiny indeed. But her eyes glowed with a frank intelligent light, and her black hair, shiny and long, framed her honest face, and struck Daemon. The violence in his soul shunted away for a space. “I’m working is all, sharpening blades.”
“For dinner?” A hungry light came into her eyes.
“Uh, not…just for dinner. A trusty sharp blade is a good companion.”
“Oh,” said the hobbit crestfallen.
“Are…are you hungry?” Daemon felt stupid. Why would he ask such an asinine question? Asking such a ridiculous question is tantamount to inviting company into one’s home. And if there was anything Daemon hated more than people, it was people in his home.
“Oh yes! I’m always hungry!” the hobbit said.
“Well, then, you should go home and fetch supper and stop bothering honest working folk!”
This is what Daemon was sure he had said. But that is not what must have come out of his mouth for the hobbit thanked him kindly and said, “I’d be glad to come in for a cup of tea and a bite of cake. You do have cake, don’t you?”
There must be some odd magicks at work today, Daemon thought, my tongue is working at cross purposes with my mind. He looked up into the gray skies and at the distant smoke burning on the black mountainside and shivered ever so slightly. Odd.
The hobbit came in and made herself at home. Daemon felt deeply irritated. Not merely because the hobbit had an insatiable appetite and an unfathomable ability to eat and drink, but because she chattered incessantly.
“So, what’s your name? My, you’ve got quite a lot of gray in your beard. You’re no spring chicken. I can see you live alone. No woman has cleaned here in a month of Thor’s days.”
“I do splendidly on my own, thank you very much, and if you don’t like it, why don’t you stop filling your pie-hole with my vittles and shove off!” His invective sliced the air with razor-sharp precision. It was poison pure and simple.
But the hobbit, she only laughed. “You’re so funny! What’s pie-hole? Do you mean that you have some pie? I love apple pie!”
“What? You…It’s a…I mean…blast!” Daemon was confounded and the hobbit giggled to see him discomfited so.
“You’re a funny man!”
“I’m not of the race of men. I’m of the race of dwarves, which you’d know if you had any sense in that round rock you call a skull.”
“Oh a dwarf! But you speak differently from the Western Dwarves. You must be an Eastern Dwarf!”
“Hmm, yes. From across the gelid sea.”
“I can speak your language very well. And I can sing many songs from your people. I’m very good at it. Listen.”
Daemon hated many things and he hated many things bitterly, but one of the most bitter hatreds in his black breast was a hatred for music. He hated revelry and dancing and anything that had anything to do with music. In this he was aberrant from his kinfolk who are a musical and joyful race. Daemon, such a contrary soul, had so many rogue tempers that it was too hard to count them all. Nonetheless, chief among his numberless spites was a loathing of music and chief among those was an abhorrence of singing. And so, when the little unnamed hobbit broke out in song, he snatched up a hammer and made ready to brain the little hobbit with the bottomless stomach and ceaseless tongue-wagging. His brawny arm was lifted high and poised to fly down with furious wrath and drop the ten-pound hammer square on the hobbit’s small round skull.
But Daemon didn’t. He couldn’t. What sound issued forth from the hobbit’s throat was not a warble or a trilling, but some supernatural sound as if Mother Gaia had opened her breast and pored out all the love she possessed for all the living creatures walking, running, flying, swimming, crawling in her profound depths and over her immeasurable horizons. It was an enchantment. A cold sweat broke out over Daemon’s body and he felt it roll down his back and between his buttocks. Daemon knew fear. This was no ordinary hobbit. She was a witch wearing a hobbit’s flesh and bones. A succubus, a wraith! One of the dark things from the world of the dead that invades a fissure into the living world and then lures the unsuspecting to their eternal doom! Daemon was confronted with the deadliest enemy he had ever faced.
“What are you doing with that hammer?”
“I sing great huhn?”
“Yes, I suppose you do.”
“Would you like to hear some more?”
“No! That is…unless you’d like to. I wouldn’t mind exactly. It’s not horrible.”
“Horrible!” The hobbit blew a raspberry. “Angels wish they could sing like me. And I used to be better when I was younger!” The hobbit went off and breathlessly recounted another long suspenseful tale from her youth. Daemon felt dizzy. Then, she began to trill again, a song from his country, his land, from the mist-covered mountains where he was born and raised. How had she learned this old tune? He had to sit down.
As she sang, Daemon’s heart began to crack and splinter, and the arteries and veins so long filled with vitriol and dust began to fill instead with blood, rich red hot blood. It was as if the hobbit had captured all of his regret and longing and encapsulated it in music. What truth he knew but feared to put into thoughts much less words seemed to materialize in the air as she sang. The rhythmic sounds swirled around him and buoyed him as does the sea. He was drowned and elevated at the same time. Suddenly, she stopped. Daemon could not move and sat immobile for a space. By the time he had collected his wits, she had found a patched quilt and snuggled onto his couch and fell fast asleep. She was fatigued and began dreaming in minutes. Daemon was stupefied. Without so much as a by-your-leave, she helped herself to blankets and his day couch. How had this happened?
The night was not young, but he was of half a mind to turn her out. He had not had company in a mage’s age, and he had not had company stay the night…ever. This cannot stand. This cannot stand! He would have to rouse her from her slumber and turn her out. But try as he might, she was as if dead. The echo of her song resounded in his mind and then he gazed at her sleeping face. A face of childlike innocence and sweetness. It disgusted him, plain and simple. He’d like to smash her face…. But, he was as if bewitched. He told his limbs to obey, but they would not obey. He could not, would not lift her small frame and threw it out into the cold. He gnashed his teeth in exasperation and plopped down onto the chair and…watched her sleep.
In these few moments, a realization took root. He did not yet perceive its truth, but he would perceive it in time, months hence, the truth of what this was. Her song, the pain in his chest, his immobility, months from then, and then years from then, the naked stone truth of it would dawn on him and melt the frost from his brow as readily as summer noontime sun, lift the burden from his shoulders as easily as if it were a feather. Though dim, inchoate, the unperceived seed was enough, in fact more than enough. He felt an odd sensation. He soon fell asleep with that new feeling thrilling his old muscles like lightning in a dark sky. It was exhausting after all.
Stentorian snoring woke him in the middle of the night. He had fallen asleep next to the hobbit, sitting at the table, his head on the table cradled by his benumbed arms. At first he feared a bear had broken into his home. He paced the small domicile looking for the beast that surely had invaded his home. Then, he realized that the frightening sound was not from a bear, nor from a troll; it somehow emanated from the tiny hobbit! He could not believe it. That such a frail little thing was capable of producing a rank snore equal to that of a fire dragon’s breath. It staggered the imagination. Daemon tried to shift her, but his arms were still asleep and he could barely lift them. After a while, his arms regained their mobility and he shoved her rudely. She turned over and the diabolical noise ceased. Then, it began again! Daemon was bone-weary. He stuffed cotton into his ears, put his head down again on the dinner table, and slept.
When he woke, the hobbit was gone as if she had never been there and Daemon feared that he was losing his mind. But surely, he had not imagined the entire episode and it seemed a little far-fetched that in his madness he would pour two cups of tea and eat all of the stores in his cupboard. No, the hobbit had merely snuck out in the early morning and returned to whatever mud-hole it called home. Towards dusk his sanity was confirmed as the hobbit reappeared carrying two large packages larger than herself and laden with food.
“And just where the devil do you think you’re going?”
“I brought you some food.”
“Get the hell out of my house!”
The hobbit laughed. “You’re so funny! You better get started. It’s getting late.”
“Get started? Get started on what?”
“Why on dinner silly. This food won’t cook itself. I’m hungry too!”
“You expect me to…what!”
“You’re such a funny old dwarf! You look cute when your face turns red like that.”
“I…,” Daemon howled in vexation, but he ended up cooking for them both.
And so it went. The little creature insinuated herself into Daemon’s life, day by day, night by night. Daemon had never had this experience, or to be more accurate there had never been a creature, living or dead, who had been able to withstand his foul nature and then able to magically transform all of his loathsome traits into less horrible ones. As time went by, Daemon noticed that his barbs softened. The furrows around his eyes and on his forehead unknitted, and he wore a pleasant half-smile most days. And most shocking of all, he noticed that on days when the little hobbit did not appear, he would come to the window and look for her approach. The nights without her horrible snoring seemed like black noisome voids and he found he could not sleep. When she was not there, there was impatience in his breast and his heart hurt and food disagreed with him. It was all very vexing. Vexing and incomprehensible.
Still, life improved for the dwarf and he enjoyed creature comforts in greater number and even found himself able to accept his fellow creatures on this earth with somewhat graceful measures. It was not an unpleasant sensation. He didn’t know how, but he knew why. He laid up the cause of this drastic sea change in his life on the shoulders of the little forest creature, the hobbit. She was not a dread fiend after all. She was exactly what she seemed, which was perplexing as in Daemon’s experience rarely are the denizens of middle earth ever what they seem to be and most often are what they do not seem to be and that was usually bad news for him. If Daemon was a cantankerous and bellicose being, then at least he was true and honest. He never shied away from the truth of his awful character unlike the lie-tellers found in every race of man.
She, on the contrary, was guileless. She was kind. She was thoughtful. She was…so many things. Good things. Why she should fritter away her time with him was perplexing. But he was no longer in combat with it. He even spent time thinking of ways to make their evenings together more pleasant. He was becoming considerate.
One by one, the terrible horrible habits of his violent soul fell like dominoes whose time had come. If angered, he could not find it in him to beat her as he had beat so many others, male or female, animal or man, living or dead. Instead he was filled with a curious predisposition to protect her and care for her. He discovered that he was beginning to adopt many of her strange and nonsensical superstitions. Though irrational, these odd habits revolved around caring for others, that was what Daemon had concluded after a fair amount of cogitation. The hobbit said and did things constantly out of care and concern for others, and specifically, him.
It was the night of All Hallow’s Eve, the night when he and other dwarves would roam the night and play naughty tricks on all and sundry. But Daemon was driven to commit neither atrocity nor mayhem. He did not sharpen any knives that night. He did not light any fires. He did not feel blood lust. Instead, that morning he picked lilies in the field, pink ones, because they were her favorite. And he went to the apothecary and asked her to concoct a box of dark cocoa sweets, the kind soft human women love so much. And he prepared a small feast and purchased a small barrel of pale sweet wine for them to drink.
“Oh! So many lovely things!” she said. “I know your people celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, but here it is not known. I’m glad to celebrate it with you! Do you want to go out and…how do you say…bash some skulls?”
“No, no. No skull-bashing, not tonight. That’s not what I want. Let’s just…eat and talk as we always do. You can tell me more stories about your childhood. Maybe even sing?”
“I love to sing, especially when I drink wine. We never have wine you know. Wine is a precious rare thing in the northern cities. I’ve only had it once in my life at my second cousin’s uncle’s friend’s sister’s wedding. Oh…I’m sorry. Am I talking too much again? I know I sometimes am a stone in your butt.”
“Boot. No, hobbit, no. On the contrary, I find that you are a precious and rare thing.”
“Ha HAh! You’re only now finding that out! Ha HAh!” With her small small hand she dared to slap his cheek lightly and tug on his gray beard.
Her good humor was infectious. They passed the evening in each other’s joyous company, laughing and sharing tales. The hobbit sang and chatted her little head off.
The witching hour was fast approaching. Daemon felt it coming in his blood.
“Hobbit, midnight is almost, is almost upon us and I would say some words to you. You know this evening is sacred to me….”
“Yes, thank you for sharing it with me.”
“Let me finish hobbit. What I must say I need say all at once. As I was saying, this evening is sacred to me, and I would that it be forever sacred to us both. Since you have come into my life, my spirit is no longer grave, my shadow is no longer long, my heart is no longer like a dead stone in my breast. You have with a sorcerer’s gift magically brought joy and laughter into my wretched life. And a wretch I am, that I know. I am an old ugly vile thing, fit only for slaughter and mayhem, but I have of late seen a remarkable change. I can not promise much, poor and exiled as I am, but I can promise you that I will day by day improve and, and, and get better and, and, and be better…for you. I find that your happiness has become all important to me. When you smile, all my cares and worries vanish like dew in the morning. I would we were united. I ask you what I have never asked anyone before.” He quietly took out the small thin plain white gold ring that he had hammered out with his own clumsy clawed hands. “I ask you now: will you marry me?”
“Marry you? Are you joking? An ugly old loathsome vile wretch like you, stinking of brimstone and the grave? How could I marry something like you? Have you lost your mind?”
He was ready for it. He deserved it. After all, look at how he had lived his life. He did not deserve happiness. He was not worthy of it. He could not expect such a tender innocent to sacrifice her life to live with a, with a daemon like him.
But that is not what she said. On the contrary.