When Knox came to be a bug irritated his eye, a black speck on his iris enlarging into a blur as he stared at it not blinking, till the inside of his eyeball started itching. He blinked and the bug buzzed away. He reanimated and sat up, pale dust settling around him. He scraped some of it in his fist and it crunched inaudibly like a handful of tiny bones would.
He gritted fragments between forefinger and thumb listening to the Goyar’s booming voice somewhere almost above, almost in the sky. It was human and then it was animalistic, a loud below that was both angry and amused. Knox coughed and the air became audible with his being, eyelids fluttering, heart beating, throat swallowing.
A rustling startled him but it was only a dead animal. It limped out on three legs, a pale stag. He stared at Knox long with his bug-filled sockets, translucent bodies wriggling in a hive. Knox thought whether the stag was some sort of God too, with stars glaring once in his eyes from a depthless darkness. The animal emanated a weak echo, a lone weep and shook its bald head seeping out some of the parasite worms infesting his frail body. Knox stood and shook himself, a Lazarus and watched the stag’s skeleton body amble away, despite its cripple kicking at the bone white earth. When he looked down he saw that where he stood the dust was a shade of red. Vermillion, Knox thought not sure where he knew the name from.
The last thing he remembered was falling off An Teallach with the Goat spirit staring into him. It felt like a lifetime ago, the push just a mere whisper on his skin. There had been another touch almost a violent pull. That grasp he felt on his forearm like a bruise.
“I hope it doesn’t hurt too much,” a voice behind Knox spoke softly.
Turning, Knox’s voice caught in his throat until he found it again lost under his tongue, behind his teeth, revoked by the inability to comprehend everything. It sounded hoarse when he spat out the single word.
The white-haired man who was Freyr turned his bearded grey face into a smile, but the ice never left his piercing eyes.
“Where am I?” Knox asked, his voice a quiet whisper.
Freyr’s whole face frowned. He looked to the sky and Knox followed his gaze. It was an endless blackness that domed overhead, starless and lightless, just nothingness. Knox shivered from that universal draft.
“Somewhere we can talk in private. You are safe for now.”
“Why?” Knox tried to ask, but it came so quietly he barely heard himself. He cleared his throat determined to be the first to speak. The stranger waited patiently. “Why did he come for me? I don’t understand,” he admitted.
“I think you do. You came all the way here after all, even though unconsciously still searching for the Goyar. Why would you do that if you didn’t feel the need to be weighted, measured? Forgiven?” Freyr suggested.
Knox hid his face behind sweaty, bruised palms and shivered with the guilt that had lived under his skin gnawing at his soul and purpose making him transparent. His fingers fumbled at his frozen clothes as he took them off and showed the old man the scars on his body forming words in a language he could never read. Now Knox looked upon himself and he knew that to be the language of Gods. He was branded a murderer, a sinner.
“Gods are funny like that,” Freyr offered, his voice calloused, his face deep-set with wrinkles.
“That’s what you said before, on the bridge. Is this a joke to them? Pain? My life destroyed? What am I to them, why do I matter?”
Knox was crying but the earth he stood on couldn’t emanate a sympathetic echo; it responded with silence. He couldn’t cry truly here in this place devoid of natural sounds.
“Walk with me,” Freyr gestured, hands clasped behind his back.
Knox followed the older man. The narrow red path led further down in a twisted decline spiraling around a bone pale mountain. Sandstone rocks jutted from the slippery ground and Knox put a hand against the smooth wall of the new mountain to support himself. He was astounded how his footsteps made no sound but that of his companion did. It made him feel like a grey shadow.
“The Heddagh is immemorially old, Knox. He is wretched because of his existence – he is a spirit that never truly became a God. He has his own ghosts dwelling in him, tormenting him. Blood remembers, and his is thicker than any. The Gods have thought a ritual, something sacred turned gruesome and messy, to show you a world where no mortal has any right, where the only truth is violence and the dead need no fantasy but the truth of their precious worthlessness, and incomplete lives. Yours for example they think such.”
“That doesn’t explain why I’m to be sacrificed. What have I done to these Gods? They are not my Gods either…”
Freyr nodded, snow white strands of hair falling in his eyes.
“That is part he reason.” His cyclone of an eye twitched at Knox’s direction. There was part rage, part understanding there. “The Goyar hates humanity. They never gave him any recognition beyond a simple myth. He hates the Gods as passionately for never accepting him, but he cannot harm them. It hasn’t happened in eons for one of your kind to cross the line. The Goyar is excited to perform his duty. For him and for them it is like revenge. It reinvigorates their passion for war and bloodshed. No deity would ever obstruct the Goyar Heddagh from doing justice to you even though they would never recognize his contribution.”
Knox nodded understanding. He had seen as much in the eyes of the towering beast, how it looked upon him with both amusement and anger. It couldn’t wait to crush him, the satisfaction readable in its neon green eyes.
Lost in thought the sudden transition had Knox off balance and he bent his knees to the new ground. An expanding forest of white pine trees opened before them. Freyr moved nonchalantly but Knox took time to comprehend it. It smelt of burned wood, not a trace of pine clinging to the impossibly tall trees extending into the blackness their tips unseen. Knox hurried to catch up with Freyr.
“I could try and reason with them – both the Gods and the Goyar. They made some mistake. I can’t be just thrown to the dogs. I don’t want to die!”
Fryer quirked his perfectly white eyebrow.
“They won’t care for what you have to say, Knox because you don’t have a say in this. They’ve already decided. You took one of us, by accident I know, but it delivered a great damage to their old souls. They wept for days. You should see Gods cry, Knox. It’s transcending.”
“I took one…I don’t understand.”
Knox stopped below the white pines. Freyr stood beside him and when Knox looked at him questioningly he saw the man towering above him watching him intensely. He followed the blue eyes of the man to his hand and instructed with willpower his palm to open free. Inside he was clutching a small wooden beast. He rolled it in his palm feeling the smooth stomach, the pointed horns, the jagged beard, the encircling thistle. He brought it to his nose and breathed in the fresh scent of the forest, pine and the piquant almondy of the wild flower. It was cool against his lips, the sharp cold rush of the mountain rivers. He kissed it tasting the salt of his rolling tears. The eyes of the creature on its very human face were painted red dots that bore into him with a questioning look. He remembered then.
“It was very precious to the man you stole it from,” Freyr said moving in to take the totem from his hand. He led numb Knox out of the forest passage and the man exhaled at the sight hurtful to his eyes and yet impossible to avert from.
He could only describe it as serene to the lazy gliding eye. To the east a large lake circled in the belly of a low mountain hill. Its waters were covered with a thick layer of ice that made the slowly dying light of a thousand falling stars above glide over it and fall into the small cracks along its length losing itself there. The white wilderness that surrounded the otherwise barren land was a blind spot in Knox’s mind and he blinked the brightness away and instead stared at its periphery, white giving way to crimson. It was dark there, the colors pulling away to an almost black leading to other lost lands bellowing to other lost faces and names. He hurried to escape from that dreaded color. Beneath his shoes the bones made fragile by time itself crunched loudly.
Freyr sat by the shimmering lake. He picked a stick and prodded the ice with it, breaking the thin crust at its shallow. Knox joined him on the white beach.
“Tell me more,” he pleaded sitting cross-legged opposite the white-haired stranger.
“The old man worshiped a dying religion, one that belonged to his father and grandfather, and grand-grand-fathers and was the last to do so. Latobius was a small deity but he was loved and respected. When you took this totem there was no item to pray to, no face to see, to connect. His faith didn’t die true, but his spirituality did. You broke the man, you broke the god. And both died on that night. Gods are not supposed to perish like that Knox.”
“You are one of them. Why are you helping me then?”
Freyr turned his face to the mountain erupting above the lake. It was the same mountain they had come down from, Knox noticed but it made no difference now. He watched the frown on the old God’s face, the wrinkles deep and many.
“I remember a time when your kind was all we had, we the first ones. Then you moved along and new ones came. It is the way. My blood, we try to retain past pride and it has eaten at our souls. You are the first in this lifetime to be brought before judge and jury – the Goyar. All to satisfy the bloodlust, to wash away the humiliation. I cannot stand by that. It is not my way. I hold no grudge for you and your sins.”
Knox tilted his head his eyes bloodshot.
“When can I go home? You told me I was safe. If I’m still here they didn’t murder me, neither did the Goyar. You saved me.”
The glaciers in the stranger’s deep set eyes melted into pools of gloomy blue when his lips parted and he spoke.
“This is home now.”
Freyr looked past Knox to the wasteland that stretched everywhere.
“Norricum, the land of Latobius. His children dwell it but they fear the smell of you and they fear the bellow of the Goyar even more. He will come and you will move, make no mistake in that. I saved this precious time to talk to you. Now he will chase and you will run.”
“Forever?” Knox was pleading. He looked back to where they had come and for the first time saw the red sandstone making its way through the white terrain, marking the way to him. His shoulders slumped in surrender knowing the Goyar will forever know where he goes. He was anchored in this continuum, cursed to dwell there with no name and no heritage, no history or future. The Goyar was to be his shadow forever following and no God would intrude on that game. They cared not for the man without faith, the thief and murderer.
“Until the times comes,” Freyr stood up and squeezed his shoulder. “It’s not over yet for you. This sets a beginning. I spared you millennial death, son. It is up to you to repent.”
Freyr shook his head. “I do not know. When the time comes you will know it yourself.”
Knox lolled back to his feet, his voice in shaking horror. “What if I don’t?”
The Goyar’s crushing below erupted into the stillness of the continuum. Knox could hear his hoofed footsteps, could see the glimmer of his poison green eye through the white net of the jutting trees.
Freyr shook him from his motionless fear. “Run now Knox, run!”
And Knox, the mute and abandoned caveman ran.
To be continued…Last chapter coming 16.09.16!