Stories

The ocean has more stories than salt.

I don’t know if selkies sung and pulled me in, or if the ringing of bells from long- drowned towers had drawn me too close, or if I’d been dragged down and spat out by some great kraken.

It’s morning, there’s sand in my mouth, my clothes are soaked. Behind me the ocean is hissing. I’m not just late for work, I’m in the wrong county.

I climb out from the reach of the waves, still drunk, salt drying on my skin; I don’t know how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Wild hunt

Wild hunt

The clouds rest their heads and their black swollen bellies against the land. Rain falls without rhythm; it drops to the grass in one long rush. You can’t see through it until the wind comes, throws it around, and rolls the clouds over onto their backs. The tips of the trees bend and wave in greeting.

The flapping canvas on a shed roof sounds like horses charging, drumming their hooves on the chalk.

Shadows pass over the ground, and between layers of cloud. The trees shudder and the dogs run loose. Not the old farm dogs; These are hunting hounds, clawing over the low hills towards men chosen by Woden.

You might be one of them.

You might see him, riding, the host and the hounds behind him, hear the hooves on the wind, and the whip crack in the thunder, and the howl of the wild hunt.

You might try to run.

It might work for a while, or seem to, until the night comes, and in a snap of lightning you see their silhouettes against the sky, and know that it’s you they’re taking, this time, down into their own land, down into the damp and the mould and the mist, where the halls are roofed with snakes and the high beams drip with venom.

But for now, it’s just the rain.

It leaves puddles in the fields but they don’t flood. The clouds are lounging, heavy, but they don’t sink, and the air is cooler, and fresher, as if something dead has been cleared away.

Wayland’s tale

 

Wayland's smithy

Listen.

This is a tale from the time of our ancestors, when kings had luck, princes had valour, and blacksmiths were magic.

The most famous of these was Wayland, who forged his treasures deep in the old spaces beneath the ground, built here by tribes long dead.

The skill of Wayland was well known; you wanted a magic ring of invisibility, you came to him. A sword that never needs sharpening? A box that remains locked, unless the right words are spoken? Bright jewels that hide as pebbles in the wrong light? Wayland’s your guy.

King Nithad heard of these treasures and wanted them for himself. He came to the smithy, riding up from the valley with a few of his best thugs, and dragged Wayland out from his home.

The king stole his sword, and wore it for himself. He stole the ring intended for Wayland’s only love, and let the princess wear it, though no trinket existed that could improve the sight of her face. The tendons in his legs were sliced apart, and he was thrown into the dungeon, and forced for many years to forge his wonders for the jealous king.

Nithad’s reign was prosperous, and he became renowned for his generous gifts. One day his two sons came to Wayland’s cell to ask if he would craft them weapons of their own.

‘Of course, my lords,’ he said, ‘But I am starting to get old; it is hard for me to work, a lonely cripple, down here in the darkness. Perhaps if you moved my seat a little closer to the light?’

The princes agreed, unlocked the iron door, and entered. They bent, either side of him, to lift his seat.

Wayland gave a cry. ‘Vengeance! Vengeance is mine!’

He beat the young princes with his hammer until their brains were squished from their ears.

Once they were dead, he began to work. He tugged their bloody scalps away from the bones and with their broken skulls he fashioned the finest cups. You couldn’t tell that they were anything but the purest white porcelain. These he wrapped and sent to the king.

Then he gouged the eyes from their sockets, and shaped them into glimmering grey-blue jewels that winked if you stared into them for too long. These he wrapped and sent to the queen.

He wrenched the teeth from their dripping mouths, set them in silver, and created the world’s creepiest brooch. This he wrapped and sent to the princess.

Then he gathered up every scrap of metal, every cog and chain, every leftover gemstone or splinter of ivory, and made a pair of wings to fit his back. He was about to leave his cell and escape when he heard footsteps.

‘Mr. Smith?’

Wayland peered closer at his visitor, and realised that it was not, as it first appeared, some kind of goat/ human hybrid, or a product of the cruelest witchcraft, but simply an ordinary, rather ugly, young woman.

‘Princess!’ he said. ‘I knew it was you. Your beauty is famed across the land. What can I do for you?’

She took off his ring, his wife’s ring, the ring her father had stolen.

‘Could you fix this?’ she said. ‘I’m terribly careless with it, and it’s got a bit scratched.’

Now perhaps poor Wayland should not be blamed for what he did next; he had spent a long time in a dungeon on his own, and that sort of thing can get a man down. It’s possible he was suffering from post traumatic stress. Let’s face it, making a brooch from somebody else’s teeth is a good sign that he may have been a little unwell.

He nodded, smiled sweetly, and took the ring, slipping it into his pocket. Then he nodded, smiled sweetly, took the princess, and raped her.

When it was done he left the cell, his sunless cage for so long, and launched himself into the sky towards home.

Wayland went on to make many more things, and had many more adventures, and many of those tales are lost; but one thing we can be sure of- nobody ever fucked with Wayland the smith again.

The end.