Thursday, January 21, 2016

STORY : The Being of the Crimson Labyrinth

The Being of the Crimson Labyrinth
by DS Baker

The snow was clean, with the hard diamond crust of a liver and kidney pie that has been baked to perfection. The deep freeze had come in the dead of the night, and Asko heard the pine trees who had been greedy in the summer explode from their water-filled cores freezing so quickly. Their soft booms along with the sound of the green forest brothers falling over sounded like the tread of giants in the night.

Morning dawned brilliantly clear. It was so bright, it didn't matter which way you turned your head it seemed like the sun kept shining directly into your eyes. Asko put on his leathers and made sure his Puukko blade was secure in his waistband of his reindeer belt. His parents called him the 'Wood Mouse', and his blade was his shiny tooth.

“A man without his blade might as well jump off a cliff, and save the world the trouble of killing him,” his grandfather's words echoed in his head.

His white and black painted bow with the marks of accuracy and protection which had been carved into the wood by the shaman of his people waited for him by the flap of his tent. As a young man coming into his full growth, he used his bow and arrows to keep food in the larder for his family.

Asko sang a children's song as he stretched. It did no one good to go lame in the snow and ice:

“Kukkoni kuoli komea, kukkoni kuoli komea.
Ei se enää laula kokodii, kokodaa,
Ei se enää laula kokodii, kokodaa,

(“My beautiful rooster's dead, my beautiful rooster's dead.
He'll no longer sing kokodii, kokodaa,
He'll no longer sing kokodii, kokodaa,

Asko heard his father's herd of reindeer moving restlessly in the night. As he approached to investigate, he hoped it might be because of the deep freeze. But it was not to be. Wargs had come in the night and killed one of the newer calves who had dropped in the last six day.

One of the wargs had lost a portion of the fight with either the mother or the herd bull. There was blood splashed on the snow, and not that of a young reindeer. The tracks looked confused and they staggered away from the camp with deep bloody paw prints in the pristine snow. Asko could see where the tracks led off into the land beyond where he and his family camped, up the mountainside to where the tree shadows ran long and light could sometimes be no more than a memory.

Against his better judgment, Asko (who was supposed to be watching the herd and not hunting wolves while his family went ice fishing for Arctic Chard) decided a wounded wolf, especially a full sized forest warg, was too dangerous to leave limping around the camp, looking for an unsuspecting human to eat. Besides… tending to reindeer got boring.

Gathering his hunting gear and his skis, he set out on the bloody trail. It didn't take long for the trail to lead deep into the woods. Asko followed the warg tracks with the morning's song stuck in his head endlessly repeating:

“My beautiful rooster's dead,
He'll no longer sing kokodii, kokodaa.
My beautiful rooster's dead,
He'll no longer sing kokodii, kokodaa.”

Deeper he went, and as he did the light went soft as fog lifted from the land, making a gray blanket between the trees as the bones of the mountain rose up like a giant's horned knuckles. Asko paused in his hunting.

The snow had gone thin, and the trail ran over frozen stone. The young man took off his skis and stacked them against a large pine. He pulled a larch wood arrow from his quiver and nocked it in his bow. Now was not the time for loud movements. Now was the time to think like the small wood mouse does when the wild cats are hungry. Stealth and soft steps would help him track the warg. The forest gloom gathered him close like a blanket.

Softly he began chanting to himself the wisdom of finding the Sun and Moon:

"Verily the Sun lies hidden,
And the golden Moon is sleeping
In the stone-berg of Pohyola,
In the copper-bearing mountain."

These are the words of Wainamoinen:
"I shall go at once to Northland,
To the cold and dark Pohyola,
Bring the Sun and Moon to gladden
All Wainola's fields and forests."

The boy could feel his spirits lifting with the song of power. As the magic of the song filled him with confidence, a deep startling roar came from the depths of the fog bank to his right. He spun around as the large gray wolf leaped at him with its mouth full of teeth aimed at his throat. Asko let his arrow of protection fly. It was the last thing he did before the world spun upside down and over, and over. He landed with a hard thud! The air in his chest ran away in a rush, and he passed out.

The wights and spirits of the world and the not-world danced as the sun slid beneath the far waves of the big water and the golden moon climbed into the sky to illuminate all the realms of possibility beneath her lantern.

Asko awoke. His whole body was battered, bruised and sore. His mind was clouded and he couldn't remember why he or how he came to be laying upon such a large warg skin as the one he found himself upon. He groaned as he levered himself up. He soon realized the rug was not a rug, but the wounded and starving wolf who had preyed upon his father's reindeer. Its front right leg had a long score upon it, and most surprising of all, an arrow with protection and quick-finding runes etched upon its shaft was buried in the wolf's throat, all the way down to the arrow's fletchings.

Silently saying thanks to the great smith of the world who pounded out the shape of men and the wizard who protected the great smith's creations, Asko looked around and tried to figure out where he was.

He began to chant the verse of power, when Louhi was scared by the Smith Ilmarinen into releasing the sun and the moon:

"Rise, thou silver Sun, each Morning,
Source of light and life hereafter,
Bring us, daily, joyful greetings,
Fill our homes with peace and plenty,
That our sowing, fishing, hunting,
May be prospered by thy coming.
Travel on thy daily journey,
Let the Moon be ever with thee;
Glide along thy way rejoicing,
End thy journeyings in slumber;
Rest at evening in the ocean,
When the daily cares have ended,
To the good of all thy people,
To the pleasure of Wainoloa,
To the joy of Kalevala!"

As Asko sang, he laid out three chips of birch bark and touched them in the manner his father taught him. When he finished the stanza where the Sun and Moon were released by Louhi, a soft pale light appeared above his head. That's when Asko realized he had landed in the ocher-stained walls of the red labyrinth.

Chills of pure ice ran up and down his spine. This was a place of legend and great danger. Asko had fallen through the vault of heaven and the true world only to have landed in Louhi's ice-covered, rubble-strewn caverns beneath her citadel of power, the Stone-berg: a place where foul things wandered, and people died horribly.

“Heya, Heya!
Dance the magic dance of the stone land fairies,
Let Asko dance the dance of magical creation while he keeps his puukko knife,
His sharp tooth safe to slice the throats of those who would harm him.
Dance the magic dance! And grab your Puukko knife!
Keep the throat slicer close to keep the elves at bay!
Heya, Heya!
Dance the magic dance of the stone land fairies,
Let Asko dance the dance of magical creation while he keeps his puukko knife,
His sharp tooth safe to slice the throats of those who would harm him.
Dance the magic dance! And grab your Puukko knife!
Keep the throat slicer close to keep the elves at bay!”

Asko chanted over and over as he built power into his silver blade he called his 'tooth'. He chanted until he saw his blade begin to glow with its own light.

Deep in the bowels of the earth, a dark rumbling of power echoed through the caverns Asko found himself in. The noise grew louder as he hid in the shadows of a boulder lodged in the red clay walls.

“Doom! Boom!
Grind the bones,
Use the blood to make my soup.
Kick the bones and make cups for my wine
From the skulls!”

A large hairy man marching along the crevice sang at the top of his voice while holding aloft a leg bone being used as a torch.

Asko crouched down and made himself into the wood mouse gripping his sharp tooth, waiting for the hairy man beast to go past. But it was not to be.

“Ho! Someone has offered Staalo a gift! A fine pillow for his head! Come out and accept my hospitality, new friend of Staalo!” The giant hairy manly thing said, as he lifted the dead warg from the floor of the crevice/cavern where it had fallen dead with Asko's arrow in its throat. The hairy creature threw the warg carcass over his shoulder and began searching the crevice with the split arched roof.

“Come out, man thing. I can smell thee. Come meet Staalo. I promise I won’t eat you much. Buwahaha!” The creature bellowed with a voice which sounded like boulders rolling in the springtime milky river floods.

Chanting from his center of his belly, where the real place of power of humans lives, a very scared Asko the wood mouse replied, “I am Asko, who received his magical sharp Puukko blade from the man who slew the wicked wizard Kullerwoinen, I am the youth who rides wargs over the air and under the ground, whose shiny blade cuts throats and gives silence to the world plagued by dark elves and snakes. I have the matchless Puukko blade, the sharp tooth! It will slice those who even look upon its silver blade. It is the tooth of the wood mouse and all fear its bite!”

As he chanted his challenge to the hairy brute, Asko stepped from behind the boulder with his silver-chased blade with the walrus ivory handle. “Come taste my silver tooth,” Asko said in a flat voice.

With a roar that shook the very stones beneath his feet, the giant hairy man thing threw himself at Asko, who tucked himself into a ball and rolled under the giant. As he rolled between the legs of the creature called Staalo, Asko sliced the tendons on either leg - snicker snick! He came out of his roll and ran down the tunnel of the crevice from whence the giant had come.

“Arrgh! Boy, I shall use your ribs as my toothpicks to clean my teeth of your stringy meat and your skull will hold my Akvavitti!” The giant called out to the retreating back of Asko.

Staalo turned to catch the lithe young man. He took one step and fell down on his face. His feet no longer answered his call and he was crippled.

Peering around the corner of the tunnel, Asko sang, “Come taste my magical Puukko the Silver Tooth! Let it give you the mercy of opening your throat and letting your breath escape your crippled body!”

“Come here, boy! Let me give you a friendly hug!” Staalo threw his torch at Asko in frustration.

Dancing back and forth like the wild wood mouse his father and mother named him after when he was a little boy, Asko danced out of reach of the giant. Neatly he sliced one finger off and then another.

“Stop! Stop, young mouse! I am staggered and bloody. Stop cutting me and I shall reward you!” The giant pleaded from a growing pool of blood in the ocher-stained labyrinth.

Angrily, Asko replied, “What shall be my reward for allowing you to live, old troll?”

“Treasure,” Staalo replied. “I have enough gold and treasure to make even a wyrm envious. I live in the earth and the earth gives me her lost things from up above. Let me live and I shall give you all that you can carry.”

“And what of Louhi? This is her stone-berg. We are in her basement. I want to go home. Shall you show me the way out, old troll, or do I have to fight her and her heroes?” Asko held up his silver tooth Puukko blade, using it to punctuate his speech.

“No, this is my realm, wood mouse. Take me to my cavern and I shall reward thee,” the bleeding and humble giant said with a dejected tone.

Presently with Asko's help, Staalo led the pair into a wondrously large cavern after many winding and twisting steps through the red labyrinth.

Piled up in immense golden bergs were coins, gold and silver; silver-chased swords and iron-tipped battle spears with heron feathers; daggers and golden harps with fine wire strings. But the most amazing of all were the gold-chased drinking cups made from skulls. The stench of rotten half-cooked pork filled the air and the ground was littered with human bones.

Spreading his arms and fingers wide, Staalo said, “Welcome to my abode! Make yourself at home!” The giant's voice thundered out. “Make yourself at home, young man.”

Bowing with his eyes locked with the hairy giant’s, Asko replied, “No, old troll. I want my gold you promised and I want to go home.”

Showing his full intention to begin cutting once more, Asko began stropping his blade upon the leather bracers on his forearm - whisk, whisk, whisk as he honed the knife’s already sharp blade sharper.

“Alright, alright. Fair is fair. I promised you my ransom. Come take it and I shall show you the way after I have had some Akvaviitti to regain my strength for the journey out of the maze of Louhi's basement.”

Hobbling over to a throne made of bones in the middle of his cavern, Staalo poured amber liquid into one of his skull cups and began to drink deeply. His throat moved up and down as if it had a life of its own.

Fearing the treachery of Staalo and having heard tales of how he grew strong after drinking his magical Akvavitti, Asko the wood mouse with the silver tooth slid up as silent as a shadow and laid the Puukko knife against the hairy throat and sang a soft song:

“Oh hello my enemies,
Should I tell thee of the dance I had with the troll named Staalo in his caverns of gold and stone?
We jumped, we cavorted, we rolled and we bit at each other.
His throat became overly long and I helped him shorten it.
Heya! Heya Hi! Heya! Heya Hi!
Shall I tell thee of the dance I had with the troll named Staalo, who is rotting in his den?”

With an audible gulp, Staalo swallowed his last bit of Akvavitti and with eyes grown large in his hairy face slowly lowered his cup and said, “Gently, wood mouse. We shall leave presently. Let me gather a crutch for my wounded legs and we shall be about the task of navigating you through the earthen coils of my home.”

Presently Staalo, leaning on a crutch made from lashed together battle spears, led Asko out of his cavern. As they passed the last pile of gold near the entrance to his cavern, Staalo's face changed from resignation and defeat to silent rage. Clutching his crutch, Staalo made to spin around and pin the upstart wood mouse to the floor of his cavern. But his greed was his undoing. The golden serving plates in Staalo’s treasure hoard acted as a mirror. Asko could see through their reflection the transformation in the giant’s face, and as Staalo spun around, Asko fell to the floor and threw his silver Puukko at Staalo's head. As luck would have it, Asko's silver tooth spun end over end and lodged itself in Staalo's right eye. The giant fell down dead at Asko's feet.

No sooner had he died than an earthquake rumbled through the labyrinth. Asko shouldered his load of gold and grabbed his Puukko blade from Staalo's eye socket, then ran for the entrance of the cavern. The earthquake followed him as he ran. It collapsed the passageway behind him and drove him relentlessly forward. After what seemed like hours of exertion, Asko could see a circle of light in front of him. The dim half-light of the maze gave way to true light. Running through the portal of stone, Asko burst into the sunlit plains of Kalevala.

Several weeks later, Asko was steadily working his way through his father's reindeer herd tending those who needed help or keeping the bulls from killing each other, when he heard a shout. Turning around, there was his father and mother along with his little sister. They were home with loads of frozen fish.

“Asko, my little wood mouse, what have you been up to since we left?” his mother asked.

Breaking into a song he replied:

“The wood mouse chased a warg upon the mountainside.
He taught the warg to fly and the mouse killed the warg under the ground
Along with a troll who wanted to make a drinking cup of his skull.
Heya hey! Heya hey!
The silver tooth of the wood mouse bites deeply.
Heya hey!”

The End.

Edited by Rebekah Stolhdrier