The Cross Roads
A Story from the Borderlands
It is perilous to walk, between the worlds…
-Chief of the Watch, Gregori 754 – 825 AD
“How delightful”, thought Martin sarcastically, while cold raindrops driven by a colder wind struck his poncho pitched around him as a makeshift tent. This thought was rather unfair – he had the least seniority of the Wardens, and this was the least dangerous of the roads to the worlds of the Fae. 1 He was just tired. At first it had been fun camping out. But the lack of sleep, general grubbiness of life in the wild, along with keeping alert in spite of absolutely no signs of anything threatening was getting on his nerves; especially after the first couple of weeks. On this, his first independent assignment, Martin was obsessed with doing everything by the book – he did not want to screw this up.
1 All references to Fairy Realms: there exist names of power that can attract attention if they are repeated too many times over short periods of time. Whenever this account must use names of power, variations of the names will be used to avoid unwanted attention from the powers themselves.
His campsite stood just off the top of a small hill over a crossroads; one of the four crossroads leading to the lands ruled by the Fair folk. 1 The land all around had the look of moorlands, rolling hills, large stones, low areas of boggy ground, and heath with patches of scrubby twisted trees making up the rest. A road extended to the horizon to the north and to the south-southeast. The cross road to the east leading to the lands of Fairy 1 led to a stand of forest five miles away, disappearing as it wound under mighty trees. The forest was forbidding, the trees in it appeared to be oaks but no oak tree ever grew to this size on Martin’s native Earth. The forest sometimes appeared to glow – it was no illusion – if one followed this road into the Morning Lands 1 at some point a bright and summer like sun would appear overhead and the weather would suddenly become like high summer. It might also suddenly become night, as time runs at differing rates between the worlds.
At Martin’s campsite there was a chill in the air, the sky overcast; on Earth it would be considered Fall-like weather in the American Midwest where Martin had grown up. Here in the Twilight lands it is ever thus, cold, wet, sun low on the horizon during the daylight hours.
Martin was dressed in a curious mix of the ancient and modern. Heavy military style boots, black pants, layers of sweaters, with a stained black hoodie as the outermost sweater. A long heavy leather coat pierced with linked rings covered him to his knees. Over this modern military style webbing with a knife sheath, pistol and holster, and other dangling camping utensils strategically placed for easy access. The only color to his drab and dark clothes was a pair of deerskin gloves, dyed to a bright Chinese red, tucked into his belt. The webbing also held a sword with a cupped hilt just visible behind his left shoulder. He sat hunched under his pitched poncho, mostly dry despite the weather, facing a small well-tended fire which was backed by a curved reflector wall of stone and mud to shield it’s presence from sight along all three roads which met near the base of the hill.
Around Martin’s camp, a circle had been cut down to the dirt through the sod, around his makeshift tent and fire, but inside the curved wall hiding his camp fire. Stones stood at the eight cardinal points, each with a particular rune-mark. Even in the light of day, the runes seemed to glow faintly.
Martin finished his supper and cleaned up, tended the fire and stood to address the genius loci – the local spirit of these hills. “I humbly apologize for intruding in your realm, and for imposing my poor magicks on your land. I do so only because I must. Please forgive my intrusion. If you cannot forgive – I will gladly move camp and trouble you no more.”
He felt amusement from the spirit, something akin to acknowledgment of his good manners, at any rate. And perhaps even approval – He would not have to move camp tonight. When Martin had first set up the camp on an adjacent hill, there had been malice, even some hostility – he had had to move his camp twice to demonstrate his good intent. The spirit of the land seemed to have become used to him over the past couple of weeks. It occurred to Martin again that the genius loci had caused him to move his camp closer to It’s center of power – which seemed to correspond to the crossroad below. He and the spirit of the hills seemed to have much more in common than he had at first believed – both watchers of the paths between the worlds.
His apology to the local power complete – Martin stepped outside the circle and walked down behind ‘his’ hill away from the roads. He walked into a sparsely wooded area in the ravine between his hill and the next. With a minor act of will he stepped out of the Twilight lands back to his native Earth. The terrain where he found himself in a remote area of Nebraska was very similar to his campsite. He pulled out a cell phone and dialed a long distance number. There was a series of beeps as an encrypted connection was established and a voice said “Switchboard.”
Martin replied, “Martin – 29874, Regular Check in. All Quiet.”
There was the sound of someone typing on a keyboard, “Acknowledged, next check in 12 hours”, and then a click as the connection was dropped.
Martin again opened a gateway back to the Twilight lands but stepped through into the ravine on the opposite side of his hill from the one from which he had departed. It was never a good idea to use the same location when traversing worlds. Some entities could track transit points. Martin quickly moved to the top of the hill, his campsite only becoming visible once he stepped within his wards. He raised the ward symbols around his camp; arcane symbols appeared in the air around him. He checked them – looking for any bugs or mistakes, saw one line which had faded like an inked parchment left out in the rain. He leaned forward and wiped out the entire line then redrew it – with a golden pen – leaving a new line of symbols in the air, glowing brightly in the darkening evening. Maintenance to the warding configuration now completed, he knelt and began the office of Compline. As he recited the service his wards glowed ever brighter in the deepening gloom. His devotion to God, praying for protection and help against all who would do him harm – also fed power into his wards – which would protect him against both physical and metaphysical assaults on his camp.
Completing the Compline service, He said, “Guide me waking, O Lord, and guard me sleeping; that awake I may watch with Christ, and asleep I may rest in peace” He bowed low again, “The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless me and keep me. Amen.”
The warding symbols were now so bright in the darkness that they were blinding Martin as stood up. He closed his maintenance view of his wards; the magickal construct was now enabled. Now as before only the runes scratched on the eight stones glowed faintly.
Martin settled down for the night under his poncho – he would mostly be sleeping sitting up this night. He readied several personal magickal defenses, checked his physical weapons – dirk, heavy rapier, and Beretta M9 pistol, and was instantly asleep. Martin would wake to perform Matins before first light in the morning.
# # #
A letter dated AD 673, 5th day of Quintilis 2 – Earth Mainline Five – Christian Warden Archives
[salutation not legible]
Greetings to you from your brothers, who in the name of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus, bear witness to the true faith to the North men in the wild places where no gentle men dwell.
This message I convey to you by my most trusted brother, Servius. Who has seen and may testify himself to what we have seen – please believe him as you would myself.
……………………………………………the pagan beliefs of the North men. These men are brutal, coarse and hardy so as to survive in their cold, hard lands. Yet even though unlettered, they have the gift of prodigious memory and long tales recited with uncanny skill – like the Greeks in their stories of the Homeric wars. In their stories of creat …………. nine worlds – which exist alongside the world which we all know – they call the common world mid-gard.
Whatever the truth or baseness of their …………………………….., I have seen with my own eyes the existence of these other worlds.
I have met a most remarkable group of North men. They are called the Eyes of Odin after the king of their gods. They all have the gift to travel between the worlds and guard our world from the creatures and daemons who roam between the worlds.
It is told among the North men ……………………………. to open portals between the worlds – once they have traversed them, while most cannot. I seem to lack this gift, however brother Servius was the only one of our party who has learned how to step between the worlds. He will be able to demonstrate his mastery of this gift to you.
Please receive him as you would receive me – and listen to him! We must not let Christendom depend on uncouth North men for our defense from these demonic forces from the other worlds. It is imperative…
2 Quintilis – the month of July in the old Roman calendar
# # #
Brother Cyrus’ lectures on Correspondences and Powers always left Martin confused and off-balance. Brother Cyrus did not encourage questions during class, but was always very welcoming during his office hours. Cyrus was a man who seemed to be from some earlier time with his old-fashioned, formal mannerisms and speech. He always offered tea to the students who came to ask questions – and if several students were waiting would invite them all in to ask their questions in turn. For most students, these impromptu office hour discussions over tea developed into the real Correspondences and Powers class; scarcely less well attended that the regular formal lectures. Cyrus also had the habit of suddenly staring off into space for periods of up to 5 minutes at a time – then asking as he unfroze, “Did I say anything?”, and when assured that he had not said anything would then cryptically remark something like, “Good, Good; not something you’re ready for as yet.”
As Martin sat on his hill for the past several weeks – keeping watch over the crossroads – he thought and reread the material he had brought with him on the various powers of and between the worlds. Like his new friend the genus loci of the hill under his camp. Very little had formally been written about genus loci, maybe he should write a monograph about his experiences here.
He had been posted here now going on four weeks. Camp life had taken on a routine; He performed the seven offices of the day: Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; he kept watch both visually and of his feelings, using them to sense what can not be seen. In the afternoons, when there was more time between offices, he studied and thought. He had the equivalent of an entire library in his reader of both sacred and secular material.
The rain had mostly stopped in the last few days – Martin was putting away his solar collector after charging his phone and reader. It was early evening just after Vespers. He felt someone was behind him – he turned quickly not seeing anyone.
Something was wrong. He heard a voice.
“You feel it too don’t you?”
Martin replied, “I feel another presence other than yourself, nothing definite, it feels like time to report in.”
“Please report that Tuvial has told you; one of the high Unseelie 3 is coming by the West road. Get your camp packed – but it is too late for you to flee, for you are to bear witness – whatever occurs you are not to interfere. Stay within your wards until it is over.”
After several weeks of silence – this much conversation seems strange to Martin; breaking the silence of this place.
Martin pulled out his pack, and started looking for something. He pulled out a device which looked like a softball, but which was hinged so that on opening it revealed the keypad and screen of a cell phone. He entered some commands into the keypad and entered a message with this name and operating number, “Tuvial reports one high of the Unseelie court 3 is coming by the West road. Tuvial has also said that I am to bear witness to what is to happen. I am standing by at my encampment; my wards are in good working order.” After closing the device, Martin opened the way to the Nebraska analog world he used for his check-in calls and tossed the device into that world. It would start broadcasting his message via both radio and cell links to the local switchboard as soon as it came to rest. Martin allowed the portal to close.
3 Unseelie refers to the dark and malevolent among the Fae, as opposed to the Seelie which are, if not necessarily good, at least neutral in their relations with humanity.
He packed quickly, leaving only his camp stool set up facing the fire. As he built up his fire, Martin wondered what exactly he was going to witness. There was a darkness on the west road now, storm clouds sweeping across the sky from the west. The evening was deepening; Martin could just make out something on the road in the distance, horses, banners, some sort of procession. The procession turned off the road, and tents started to appear as if they were mushrooms, just outside the mighty forest.
As the air cooled, Martin pulled on his gloves, and raised his hood. Martin sensed that there was someone on his hill, several someones, moving toward him in the darkening twilight.
Suddenly, there was a woman standing just ten feet outside of Martin’s camp. How she had managed to walk that close without his noticing her approach was a complete mystery. She was slim, and well-formed; seemingly a young woman in the flower and strength of youth. As he continued to look at her the more puzzled Martin became. She could not be considered tall, but seemed to tower over him. Not overly voluptuous, yet the swaying of her body and the way she looked and moved was so erotic that Martin was having trouble thinking of anything other than the sexual feelings washing over him. Her face as she turned toward him was certainly attractive, but it’s effect on him was electric, even more than the sight of her body. She was dressed in green dyed leather, boots, a open necked linen shirt, which fully showed off her figure. A slim rapier was at her side, as were two shadowy figures several feet further away. She and her companions were on foot – her clothing looked well suited for riding.
Martin noticed that he was standing; he did not remember standing up. The women was facing him now and smiling faintly, and the only thing in Martin’s mind was an overwhelming sense of both desire and a forlorn, despondency. He raised his hands to open his protective wards, and noticed the bright red gloves he was wearing. The bright color seemed to awaken something in Martin’s mind. He was thinking again, albeit slowly. What was he doing? He had just disabled the invisibility part of his wards which had hidden his camp from view. Red, why were his gloves red? 4
4 The color red, the taste of salt, the sound of bees, sudden pain, sight of the full moon – all provide some protection against enchantment of the senses – Revelations of Thirty-Six Other Worlds, Paris Ormskirk, Published by William Knowles of London, Paul’s Churchyard at the sign of the black bird, 1547.
The woman was smiling broadly now, and said, “Pretty man child, so sweet.”, she glanced down, “So much ardure!” These wards that separate us, my love, you must lower them now.”
Martin stopped. His wards were still intact. His feelings and emotions were still under the woman’s spell, but his mind was now free. Martin answered slowly, “I don’t believe that would be wise.” Martin could tell that his wards were under attack, from below and above, yet for all the power being employed against them, the wards were holding.
The woman pouted, “Wise, why be wise, have you ever felt such desire before? I can give you more pleasure that any mortal has ever had.”
Martin now noticed the shadowy figures to either side of the woman. Their clothes were much like Martin’s; right down to the leather pierced ring coats and weapons they carried. Their clothes were not just dirty but looked as if these men had been buried in these clothes and exhumed. These men, and Martin was sure they had at least once been men, looked like poorly mummified bodies in their equally poorly preserved garments. Only their eyes blazed with life. One of the men was attempting to make some sort of gesture. Martin did not understand at first, then he recognized it as an attempt at making the sign of the cross. The woman noticed too and turned back to Martin.
“Yes, my lovers were once as you, they were once Christ’s men who now worship only me.” Her low pitched alto voice was as sensuous to the ear as a lovers touch.
Martin was feeling even more desire than before, but whatever magicks had been used on his mind were no longer operating. He was feeling intense desire and despair, as well as fear in equal measure. The woman’s appearance flickered, becoming inhuman, she seemed to be made of interlocking vines one moment, in the next she seemed as mummified as her companions, but only for that split second. Then, once again, everything about her was superlatively human, and even more desirable than before. Martin sensed her power. Old as a mountains root, but also vital, alive, like a forest in Spring. She was no mortal woman. She was a princess among the Fae. 1
Martin spoke, “Please forgive me your Highness”, and he dropped to one knee, and lowered his eyes. “Forgive my ignorance, by what name should I know you?” Martin’s readings about the Fair Folk and old Powers, stressed their love of ceremony and manners. Pomp, titles, and courtesy were the inventions of mankind which delight them the most. Martin sensed Tuvial’s approval of his gesture.
“So ardent, yet also so polite”, she said while looking down at him, “You may call me Despair. 5 All come to know me, sooner or later.”
5 Some of the known daughters of the Morrighan or Mórríoghain, great/terrible/phantom Queen, (also see 9 Lamia): Anguish, Despair, Misery, and Sorrow.
Thinking as swiftly as he could, Martin again lowered his eyes and replied, “Princess Despair, I am not worthy of your company. My attentions could not but be insulting to you”, He continued, “I was sent here to await someone of great importance, I could not have even dreamed that it would be such as yourself. I am ordered to keep this post until relieved. You who have served in the wars with your Queen Mothers 6 know the importance of duty.”
6 Reference to the three aspects of the great/terrible/phantom Queen (see 5) or Queens of battles: Badb, Macha and Nemain.
Despair was much amused, “Precious Christ man, what care I for duty, but that it brings to me delicious young men and women to love and worship me. I am very pleased in the taste of your commander, for choosing you. I had not known the men of Christ to be so crafty, to use such sweet youth to draw me out.”
Another figure appeared on the hill top. He appeared to be a rustic, young shepherd, dressed in a sheep skin, somewhat indifferently tanned. He was holding a great stave in his right hand. He called to Despair, “Cousin, why have you disturbed my slumber?”
Despair turned quickly, and then laughed loud, “Lord Tuvial! I have not seen you in an age, is this where you have been all this time?”
Tuvial smiled, “Here and there. After the recent battles among the Fair 7 , I wandered for a time. But, my kind were not made for wandering. I found this place, it suited me, so I stayed. I ask you again your purpose here?”
7 Very little is known about this conflict, a political and metaphysical realignment within the Fae realms, possibly caused by the spread of Christian and Muslim beliefs in the human realms.
Despair now frowned, “I had forgotten how tiresome you are! I needed a change; I thought that I might find it in the wider worlds. But all I find are the same old Sprites I’ve known, and a tiresome man-child who is more devoted to duty than to making love to me. It is all so disappointing!”
Tuvial gestured roughly toward Martin, “What do you think of his wards? By what power have you been opposed?”
Despair turned back to Martin. She seemed uncertain. She turned back to Tuvial, “It cannot be, not Him. He does not interfere.”
Martin, still on one knee, now shifted to kneeling on both knees. Freed from Despair’s direct attentions, he saw anew Despair’s companions, and felt great pity for them. But for a pair of red gloves, that would have been his fate. Martin started praying for intercession for these nameless men, held prisoner for years unnumbered by the mistress of despair.
Despair was now visibly shaken, she sensed the power of the Creator in Martin’s wards. The Powers knowing power are not accustomed to being overridden themselves in their dealings with mankind. This was not what she had expected. Magicks are powered by life and belief. Any mortal only has so much of either, which usually limits the powers they control. Martin’s belief in God the Father and devotion in His service, along with his knowledge and skill in this craft was the power behind his shielding wards. It was a power from God, which completely encompassed the dark power of Despair; for the Lord God is All.
Despair turned again to Martin, “My man-child is truly Christ’s man. But you know not the God you serve. He is truly to be feared.” She seemed to be about to say something else, but at that moment, Despair’s escorts turned their faces to the sky, a harsh croaking scream issuing forth from their open mouths. The light that had shown in their eyes, drifted up and away from their bodies which immediately dissolved into dust behind them. Most of the dust fell immediately to the ground, while the remainder continued to hang in the air, slowly settling, but continuing to mark where they had been standing. Martin rose to his feet.
Despair regarded the dust to which her lovers had returned, then approached Martin, standing face to face with him just to the other side of his wards. “Well played, it is not often I meet a hero. I will leave you something to remember me by, my sweet man.” She then laughed, as Martin gasped, having finally found sudden relief from his glamour induced desire. In that same moment she was gone, her laughter receding toward the encampment in the distance, which now twinkled in the darkening twilight.
Darkness and silence settled over the top of Tuvial’s hill top. Tuvial was nowhere to be seen. A mist started to envelop the hilltop, isolating the camp from the surrounding world, but at least reflecting back toward him the light of the fire. Martin was shaking all over and not from the cold, as he found a change of clothes which were mostly dry in his pack. He changed quickly, and pulled on his poncho. His fire was dying. He banked it and added some wood. Martin watched his fire take on new life.
“Hello the camp, may I join you?”, called a familiar voice from the darkness.
Martin jumped in reaction even though he recognized the voice. Martin answered as nonchalantly as he could, “Brother Cyrus, what has brought you out this evening, to this delightful world?”
“Why, you have Martin. I have come in answer to your call.” Cyrus replied, matching Martin’s playful tone. He was dressed much as Martin, but without weapons. He was wearing thigh high boots and an olive drab poncho against the heavy mist. “I saw most of what happened here, I was warded and concealed farther down the hillside. I reported in right after she departed, so it is not necessary for you to report further this evening.”
He allowed Martin to confirm his identity 8 and to open the wards permitting him to join his student near the fire. Giving Cyrus his camp stool, Martin then opened two cans of beans and arranging them on a grill over hot coals. He quickly audited the warding spells. Satisfied that the wards were still firmly in place, he make himself a rude seat of his still mostly packed knapsack. Cyrus offered him a cup, Martin accepted it finding it to be tepid tea.
8 Methods and Procedures – Identification of Wardens in the Field – Classified.
Only after they had eaten some beans, did Cyrus say anything of import. “You have done very well. We had some indication that someone would be traveling this road, but no one thought that it would be anyone this powerful among the Unseelie. 3 And especially one of the Lamia. 9 We never send our younger wardens to confront them, but they are perilous for anyone to confront. far worse then deadly.”
9 Lamia – Usually female fae who drain the life from their human victims.
“Who were those men who were with her?”, Martin asked quietly.
“I believe, one of them was a man named John, a classmate of mine. We were together, nearly 50 years ago, unprotected by wards at night. She attacked us and went after him first. I was not attacked and fled”, said Cyrus, he paused, then continued, “Whether it was Brother John or another, it was very well done.”
“I could not do otherwise”, said Martin, then added, “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Although, I was worried she might fly into a rage at what I hoped would happen.”
“It was a definitely possible”, agreed Cyrus.
“But did my prayers for them really free them?”, asked Martin.
Cyrus was silent for what seemed like a long time, “I believe, that your prayers freed them.” He paused, then continued, “We are not given to know exactly how they were allowed to find rest. Did God intervene directly, and free the souls of those men? Or, did they realize that when she traveled to these border lands, her hold on them was not absolute? Or, when they saw their brother pray for them, did their own faith in you, release them? In the final analysis, it does not matter; your prayers set them free.”
Cyrus then changed the subject, “You have of course surmised that Tuvial watches this crossing for us. And that this was supposed to be just another test, a field test, to see if you were really ready.”
“I suspected as much”, replied Martin, “It was all just a little too pat. I must admit that I have learned a great deal these past few weeks. Mostly about how much I do not know.”
“We all continually need to take refresher courses in that subject”, said Cyrus, he then added, “It will be some time before any of the Fae 1 attempt this crossing again. One of the most mighty among them was thwarted in passing on into the main Earth line worlds.”
It was time for Compline. Together they performed the service. After they had made themselves as comfortable as possible, Cyrus took the watch, giving Martin leave to sleep more deeply than he had in many weeks.
Cyrus stayed awake throughout the night, keeping vigil both for John; his friend lost so long ago, and the other unknown warden. As he watched Martin sleep he could not prevent an enormous smile spreading across his face – he would have burst out laughing – if it would not have awakened Martin.
“I knew thee first!”, Cyrus thought to himself, “You will be the best of us”, and then just as silently in his ‘other’ voice, “You may even save us from ourselves…”
Cyrus also pondered the words of Despair. She seemed sure that the Wardens had left Martin to her as a sacrifice. It could well be true, providing her with a fresh young victim would also have distracted Despair, causing her to return to the lands of Fairy. 1 As Cyrus continued his vigil that night, he considered how best to protect his student and ensure Martin’s destiny.