Village that would not be found
Oh hearty stone carv’d from old ground
Treasur’d Goonbell will rise everlastin’ loik the sky
For nought but those who knows where it lie
Do pass through such hardy land to spy
Our fair Goonbell.
Keep peace with the land and forever we cry
The Song of Goonbell’s Guild.
Aerin woke to silence; a deep tranquility that would muffle even the most fractious of minds. They had slept in the back of Cesonius’ hut as he had kindly offered (Orpheus had no property of his own in the village) where Aerin had laid down willingly to rest her head. There was the occasional squawking of unnamed birds circling Goonbell as they played in the rising thermal lifts – maybe a raptor, vulture, stork or some such bird. They would soon soar higher than the mountain and bury themselves above the clouds and peace would return once more. The bed was hard but Aerin’s well-travelled bones were grateful for its structure. The dry mud floor was generously covered with hay that smelt wondrous warm and gave much the same grateful feeling to the soul as sitting by an open fire when returning from a long day spent doused in the water spilt by an unrelenting God. Yellow golden whisps caught sunlight’s chalky rays as though the hut itself was a rare hourglass lifted up to the inescapable sky. Aerin rose only when she heard the clammering and clattering of pots and pans and quickened her dress when she presumed the immence of food as the deep smoky musk of Orpheus and Cesonius’ pipes mixed as though born to do so with burning bacon fat. They eat quickly straight from the pan, dipping great chunks of bread in the dark meaty liquor whilst swirling coffee grind down their gullet with consumate ease and chewing the fat about this and that.
Soon the morning wore long so they took to stretch their legs around the village and “find ourselves proper lodgin’s”. Further in, Aerin spotted women and men together ringing fabric in large stone tubs to dye the cloth ready to be worn by he villagers. Aerin asked Orpheus what fabric it was that they were dyeing, Orpheus answered “’Emp, ‘Emp always ‘emp, toughest, longest lastin’ fabric there is”. Orpheus had laughed earlier at the state of Aerin’s garments as they had emmerged from the forest, ripped to shreads by the undergrowth. Orpheus showed off his clothes, the hardy hemp that stood up to all abrasion of rock and forest, “Oi may not ‘ave the cleanest cloth aroun’ but it’s the best” he said knowingly giving that ever-present smile of his. He promised therefore to donate his old robe to Aerin and directed her straight down a small dirt track to an old barn. In the barn was a row of hammocks hanging off a central beam, around twenty in total. Next to each hammock were a lamp, a large metal chest, a wooden cabinet and a large cylindrical wooden encasing, the contents of which changing with each hammock. One bared a sword, another a sythe, another a bow. Orpheus walked over to one hammock and placed upon it his sack, and gestured for Aerin to do the same with hers. Orpheus then bared a necklace that hung about his neck and took the key that hung about it. He walked towards the metal case and placed the key within its lock, in the case he deposited all his food and drink. After closing the case he rolled his tobacco upon it and packed his pipe. Then, as he puffed merrily away once more he quickly scurried about in the wooden cabinet and emerged first with a spare hammock that they quickly hung next to Orpheus’ own, then a blackened hemp smock and cloak that he offered to Aerin. It was a good quality piece that Aerin gladly accepted and put on immediately. As Aerin changed into the new clothes Orpheus peeled the sole off his boots and proceded to deftly nail the new sole the old boots. After a few moments he was happy with the finished product and tested his work out with a few steps about the barn, “good as new” said Orpheus. He clapped his hands with joy when Aerin emerged in her new wear and scampered to his bag again to remove some bread and cheese, offering half to Aerin. “We mus’ eat an’ stroide oi fear, for we mus’ seek the counsel of the guild of Goonbell abou’ this trouble you’s speak of, for it canno’ wait no longer!” Aerin nodded in agreement, her mouth already crammed full with food.
And so the pair bared the burden of their lamps and trundled a fair way up a winding narrow cobbled path cut deep into the ground so that ferns grew up and over its sides making it invisible at street level. They arrived eventually upon a large courtyard, simply decorated with stone and plant where a group of ten men and women sat sipping tea from large bowls and looking to the hills for inspiration. As Aerin and Orpheus approached the first of the guild stood and bowed shortly to them wearing marked faded purple robes that met the floor in doing so, before holding out his hand saying what Aerin guessed was the general Goonbell salutation “My a dhannvon dhis kara”, the travellers said the greeting in return echoing him before all others there stood and welcome them both into the centre of the courtyard in much the same manner. With no words uttered they formed a circle about Orpheus and Aerin and obligingly gave them audience. Orpheus stepped forward and addressed the guild. “Elders guild o’ Goonbell thank’ee for this counsel. Yet it is wit great sadness an’ warnin’ tha’we stand ‘ere before you. She to my side be Aerin Paean ‘o comes from a walled city Ilus four or more days from tha’ breaks of valley an three days further hence from ‘ere. She spoke me o’ a cripple messenger who had seen death itself in winged beasts at his village but how Ilus had not seen truth in his desp’rate words. She spoke me of all her people, the people of Ilus now dead an’ gone buried in a great ash af’er winged beasts did visit her land!”
There were mumbles then and frightened knowing looks but Orpheus continued. “Even oi did see black smoke risin’ high in the sky weeks gone by of sum great evil workin’s in southern lands, but I thought nowt more of it” he added a little shame-faced.
An old man with greying beard, perhaps the oldest of the elders guild, held his hand up and Orpheus paused as a consequence. The man pulled his hood so as to bare his head and spoke “Ay it is true, we too did mark this change in skoi but could not think of it’s purpose, but there is more. Yee ‘ave done well Orpheus to mark tha’ change an speak o’ it, Paean, I would like to hear your thoughts about this, speak friend of Goonbell.” He beckoned Aerin to step forward as Orpheus had done and smiled to seek her voice.
Aerin answered, “I am Aerin Paean of the great city of Ilus lying o’ weeks way from here. Tis a city that was lost to greed and led to believe there was no land but that which lay within its walls. We were led to believe that nothing would penetrate into the City, that nothing that was stronger than those that protected Ilus yet we were misguided. An old man, the cripple named Hephaestus came upon the city in desperation and spoke of winged beasts and their evil, the death of his village and others, however nought but myself seemed swayed to believe him, all others cast off his voice as that of a madman, disbelieving that such a fate could ever befall our walled city locked us aware in fear, and so the city was destroyed, I and the cripple locked away all lost.”
“I see, I see” said the old guildman, “and these winged beasts have you seen them before anywhere?”
Aerin answered, “only in books”. The old man smiled and the circle muttered in approval “books of the ancients” they muttered, “so all was not lost af’r all” said one. “And why, pray, did you believe this man Hephaestus?” said the old man, “and how did you both escape your imprisonment?”
Aerin thought about both these points and then answered “I don’t know. I had a… feeling.” She paused realising the inadequacy of her repost and sought more to find the right words. “I had read of signums; signs of darkness, a raven had appeared above the city bringing with it a mysterious dark cloud building as if made by… magick.”
There was a murmuring again among the elders. “Continue” said the old guildman after the murmurings had subsided.
“I had read that these signs must not be ignored” said Aerin, fidgeting now and then with a loose thred in her pocket. “My father was a healer and an important man of the city so I spent much time in the library beneath the great halls. Here there a lay a great hidden library beneath the first which contained books cast aside as fiction but that since I have learnt held many truths. I have read of the winged beasts named as Keres, and of the land of Arcadia to the north stretching to the black mountains here and to the south where Hephaestus has head for safety.”
Another old man then spoke, “we too have heard of the keres, dark magic, evil forces that have lingered on our world since the dawn of time to drag those to their doom.”
The first old man shook his head in contemplation, “yes, the keres, it is as we feared. Yet there must be good forces, magical ones too, I might add, at work as we have you quite remarkably in front of us, or at the very least you are lucky!”
“Quite” said Aerin, nodding in agreement. “We escaped the city through my own magick… of sorts”. Orpheus looked curious at Aerin’s disclosure, for she had not told him of such and she did not dare look at him for fear of his disproval. Mentioning magick was never a good thing, in Aerin’s book but since the elders had mentioned it first it seemed appropriate. “That which came over me with great surprise and had been quite beyond my control”.
The old man seemed curious at Aerin’s unwillingness to disclose more detailed information and raised his healthy long eyebrows up along with his arms aloft “what magick be this? Be not ‘fraid for we will not scorn’t.”
“Well” said Aerin clearing her voice for it felt shaky, “firstly I seem to have gained an inept ability to open locked doors” (a lady with a funny hat gave a little chuckle at this). “We arrived at the surface of the city weeks, maybe months later for time tracking had escaped us from being doped to find it long gone. And in my state of great sadness I did sit upon the ash of the city crying desperate tears, my cries mixed with the ash and dried blood to produce a reddened pool in which a green shoot…appeared”.
Orpheus at this moment could contain himself no longer and turned towards Aerin, fairly jumping up and down and spoke to her in a loud booming voice “A green shoot! Nev ha nor! Arwoedh! A sign from ol’ earth, well oi never- an wa’ now was the bless’d shoot, you’s missed tha’ out before, eh?”
“Sorry” said Aerin apologetically looking sheepish she fiddled with her robes belt – I was fearful to mention it.”
Orpheus nodded, “Understan’ you’s came from a place frownin’ on magick, quite roit you was fearful. An’ what happen’d to the shoot?”
“Oh…it grew into an ash tree in a…short period of time (though how short Aerin was not inclined to mention, for the story now was bordering enough upon the unbelievable already, and she was really wanting the guild to believe it, for the preservation of Goonbell.)
An old woman then stood before circle and cast her hood back, “of course, an ol’ ash tree, it has been scribed as such, blud an’ tears ash an’ fears shall yearn such a tree, but what was its purpose?”
Orpheus answered “the purpose of such a tree? Loif an all is ‘portant to me!”
The first old man laughed at Orpheus, “Narjia meant no ‘fence to the tree Orpheus sept it moight mean summit more, tis all.”
“oh” said Orpheus and he fell silent, looking a little sheepish himself.
“Indeed I believe it did!” said Aerin (growing more confident that her wild story was being believed, “it meant to give me a message from those that lived within it. A miriad – a small nymph insisted on directing me to follow the dust road out of the city an’ to find the river from which I found yourselves.” Aerin’s story seemed complete enough for now, and Aerin did not yet mention the lake Avernus underneath the mountain nor ask what could lie beneath it.
“Goodness indeed!” Said Narjia, “miriad spoke to you an’ gave you counsel, an’ spoke o’ Goonbell?”
Aerin added “They did not name Goonbell but mentioned that I should seek the guidance of those that lived in the ‘village that would not be found’ high up in the mountains, near to the valley of Ordesa.”
“Well tha’s settled it” said the oldest of the old men, “you ‘ave our counsel an’ our help in whatever business you needs it, for omens mus’ not be ignored an’ magic mus’ be treasured if loives are to be spared.” The other members of the hooded guild nodded solemnly in agreement. “If we ‘ave read the skois correctly” said another “we ‘ave been mos’ fearful an’ now we mus’ be thankful. Aerin Paean you may fink tha’ you ‘ave cum to talk only of pain an’ loss but you’s ‘ave brought us hope an’ comfort too. An’ so we will seek you both in early mornin’ light for the sun will soon set on this day and we ‘ave much to discuss – long into the night, an’ you both mus’ rest for tomorrow brings more than today.”
And so, on that note, Aerin and Orpheus set off back down the steep cobbled path underneath the ferns sharpen blades, mend clothese and talk themselves long into the night to fall asleep eventually in their hammocks swaying quietly in the little breeze in the barn.