The Watchers – #writephoto [Flash Fiction]
“Where do they come from?” asked Tab, as he and the Elder stopped by the weathered stone pillars. Ever since he was old enough to crawl, the out-of-place stones had fascinated him. Carved by some unseen hand from a light grey material, there was nothing else like them in the whole of the tribe’s territory.
The Elder glanced down at him, then folded himself down onto the ground. Sitting cross-legged, he patted the bare earth beside him, and Tab obliged.
“If you are to one day take my place, and wield the magic of our people, it is time you learnt about our oldest, most sacred legend. It is a story passed down from master to student throughout the ages, and it is why we hold a feast in honour of the stones every year.”
Excitement rose up inside Tab like a swamp-bubble ready to burst. “I’m ready, Elder,” he said. “And I promise to keep the story, and pass it on to my own student, one day.”
The Elder smiled, but his eyes spoke of great sadness. Tab noted it, but didn’t ask about it. There would be time for questions later.
“Long ago, when our people were newly arrived in this land,” the Elder began, “they settled in a place of great richness. It was the place where the river, the plains, the mountains and the forest met, and there, we had bounties from each realm. From the river we took our fish, and its waters carried our boats more swiftly than our legs could bear us. The plains provided us with a host of creatures to hunt for their meat and their furs, and from the forest, valuable wood was cut to build our homes and our spears. The mountain gave us precious stones, with which we made beautiful jewelry, and it gave us flint, which we fashioned into spear-tips and daggers for skinning.”
Tab could see it all within his inner-eye. His ancestors, hunting on the plains, gathering flint from the mountains, stalking great fish in the rivers. But there was a shadow looming over the scene; something had gone wrong. He knew it, because his people no longer lived where the river, the plains, the mountains and the forest met. They lived far away from the mountain, at the place where the river grew widest before emptying out into the sea. And the forest… it was a full day’s travel away.
“What happened?” he dared to ask, his question borne on a wisp of breath.
“Evil spirits,” the Elder replied. He lay his oaken staff across his knee and gestured out towards the white-tipped mountains in the distance. “They dwelt deep within the mountains, in caves so cold and dark that the sun’s light never reached them. The evil spirits heard our people as they laughed and danced and lived their lives, and they grew jealous. They hated that we took the flint they cast out as waste, and that we used it to make weapons with which to hunt and survive. And they hated that we made beautiful things out of the jewels they coveted for their own.
“One cold day, in the deepest depths of winter, they gathered in force and came racing on ill winds down from the mountain, bringing with them avalanches of snow so great that even the noise a thousand thunder storms would have paled in comparison. They attacked, entering in through the mouths of our people, darkening their souls with their evil intent. People began to argue. Men hurt their wives. Mothers tortured their children.”
Tab leant forward, his breath stuck in his throat. Never before had he imagined that his people could be so brutal, so violent towards each other. No wonder this story was shared only between Elder and Student. If the people knew of what they had once done, it would destroy them.
“Just as all seemed lost,” the Elder continued, “Mala, Goddess of Light, turned her golden face towards us. She reached out to embrace us with her warmth, and cast out the evil spirits. Back to the mountains she banished them, to their cold, dark caves. But even though they were banished, they still hungered for vengeance. To protect our people, Mala instructed them to retreat to the place where the river widens, and where the plains animals gather each year for the great crossing.
“At the perimeter of our borders, she asked five of our oldest and wisest elders to stand watch for eternity. To allow them to carry out their task, she turned their bodies to stone, so that time would not age their flesh as it does ours. There they stood, and here they stand still, watching, waiting, for the day when the evil spirits try to hurt our people again.”
Tab swallowed the lump in his throat, and gazed with renewed appreciation for the stones. “But if the watchers are now stone, how will they tell me when that day comes? How will I know if our people are under attack?”
The Elder turned his sad gaze back to the white-tipped mountains.
“You will know.”
Ahh, it feels good to be doing one of Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompts again. I’ve missed seeing what nuggets of creativity she deep-fries and feeds to us on her Daily Echo site. Hope you enjoyed this tale of the Watchers, and please check out Sue’s site for other great #writephoto entries!