We traveled east into the rocky hills, camping rough and uncomfortable rain and rocks, if one wasn’t waking you with cold drizzle in your face, the other was keeping you from sleeping by digging into the tender points of your back. As soon as it was light enough to see by we were once again moving, making our slow, careful way up the rough slopes and out onto a rocky plain. Following a small trail we headed onwards, only to be stopped by a hunting party of Hillfolk. In broken pigeon speech I speak with their leader who finally agrees to allow us to continue on to the campsite. Although we traveled forward unaccompanied, we were not alone. I don’t know if that comforted or alarmed, but we made the boundaries without incident. In amongst recently vacated campsites I find a trader woman who has herbs and plants for sale. Between bartering for something similar to Mother’s Bane we speak of the Dawn Caves and of their storyteller. For a little more than the worth of the herbs, I am giving directions to her tent and move on, White in tow.
The Hillfolk are a fascinating people. Primitive, yet, their culture is complex, full of rules and customs that are designed, one would believe, to ease the passage of hard days and long nights, customs that keep men in line, and women from being property. I like them. I would like to understand them better. But at the moment, I have only the tidbits I can remember from my mother, who, for a while, before the forests and hills took over my life, tried to teach me the ways of her family. I listened, but my heart was never in it. Much of what she taught me slipped away, until now. Confronted with this nomadic people I find tidbits coming back, words, customs… which is why, at the entrance of the storyteller’s tent, I leave White in the care of a young boy and go in myself. Women don’t talk in front of men. The men like to believe they are in charge, so women, in their eyes take a subservient role in the background… seen but not heard. The women believe that men need to focus on hunting and protecting their families, so they do not discuss things with them. That would complicate life too much for the simple male mind. It is amusing, fascinating, and works very well for them. Although White is not happy, he is reasonable and intelligent, and accustomed to his own culture’s oddities, agreeing to wait outside.
Within, the tent is dim, smokey… but aromatic, not choking, eye watering smoke. The small, bird like woman introduced to me as Hi ’Ree and I sit. She has many languages and we find one we are both comfortable in. My talk with Hi ’Ree is dreamlike, her voice, modulated low, flowed to me in a sing song rhythm, telling me all she knew of the Dawn Caves, or the cave of Abadon as it is known among her folk. Sitting now, sheltered in a small cave while the skies drop torrential water down on the world, trying to put this all down before it is forgotten I am discovering that the sing song cadence stays with you, making recall easy for conjuring her voice, her words, puts me back in the dream state I was in within her tent
“The caves of Abadon…” She paused, collecting her thoughts, her accent, in the Danvaree tongue is lilting, almost lispy and I am uncertain I have heard the name correctly, perhaps she said Cave of Abandon and I have misheard. I am loathe to interrupt her but even before I can she continues. “Caves of hiding, deep caves, some who say stone folk dwell, from within the caves I have seen a collar, not necklace, a collar, but was made, I think, by mountain folk hand… whether stolen in the cave or if there is mountain folk holding within, I do not know… we do not use the cave of Abadon, they have bad luck.” She pauses, leaning forward to drop herbs on the embers, examines me through the fragrant smoke and, happy with what she sees, continues. “ From the wars, things sought refuge there, on both sides of the war…I have been told that in the darkness of the caves people go missing, by accident or by foulness, none seem to know…I am told one is a false cave, others connect with caves within, but there is one that is a deep cave… does not connect with the others.” She straightened her spine, tilting her head to regard me again, I can only imagine the rapt, beautific and idiotic look on my face. I was entranced. Delighted to finally have found someone with at least some sort of information about what lies within that cliff face. It must have been truly ridiculous, for she smiled and issued a warning to be before continuing. “Now all I tell you is what I have heard or been told. Yes?” I nod, she smiles indulgently and continues, “They are not mines but natural caves, some are not made by hand, but worked. In old days before I was even a girl, the demon Abadon, was said to dwell there… He was slain within the caves, but his blood has cursed it so that none that enter leave unchanged. That is what we were told. During these wars, I am also told both sides sought refuge, and I heard nothing of any changes… but, particularly the deep cave, it is likely something dwells there… and whether the false cave and the deep cave still do not join others… some say Abadon dwelled in the heart of the mountain, so the deep cave will be very very deep. But most tales that speak of Abadon speak of only a days travel, and travel within caves is slow. So I think maybe not that deep.” She thinks maybe not so deep. I have to smile at that, wondering just how much this woman actually knows about traveling below ground… probably no more than I do. With that matter-of-fact statement she rocked her bottom, readjusting her cushions and wrap. I ask her what she knows of this demon. Narrowing her eyes, she leans forward, more the teacher than storyteller now and this is a lesson I must learn or die, Hi ’Ree tells me, “Abadon, slays children, he slays old women, he eats gemstones, births dragons, he was slain by four men.” Settling back into that sing song chanting she tells me the story, “Four men, armed and armored heavily, a woman who was magic, and a mountain folk sought him, many, many moons ago, To clarify how long ago, she leans forward, conspiratorially saying, “Maybe, when the flatlanders fought, so that they could become one… if a child is born then, when he is grown, perhaps he is the one who fought Abadon. But..” The storyteller voice returns, “Most tales say they sought for a day, coming upon a fortress of fire, the mage woman she turned the fortress of fire into a pool of water and they swam to an island where Abadon dwelled, it is said in our tales that they were armed with good black iron, and they fought Abadon and his children or minions, small demons like black children with four arms or with two head, or a tail, but all like black children with something extra… She paused and shuddered for effect, “They slew his minions, they slew his champion… a snake who wore armor, and then, they slew Abadon, but in the battle with him, two of the men and the mountain folk were killed. The mage woman was stripped of her power, she could no longer cast magic, but the blood of Abadon drained in the lake and again it began to burn, but with a dark fire, but, it did not burn long. The three buried their friends within the stone walls and returned… and then, the tales go on to say that the curse of Abadon killed them within two summers. None of the tales give names to any of them.” Her story finished, she wiped her hand together twice. But, smiling, she continued, “Now, I tell you, in case you are not knowledgeable of us, these tales, maybe word for word true, or they may be that which is created to teach… but all tales teach. Whether word for word true or word for word untrue. Abadon is an evil that is unknown… forces are gathered against it, and defeated, but it comes back and consumes each of them. This evil can be speaking to a man in daylight, it may be a man who attacks women, it may be the flatlanders greed for coin. An evil can be defeated, but it never is gone… until there is none who know of it. When no more man walks the world, the evils upon it will no longer be.”
Full of many things to think about, I left Hi ‘Ree with a portion of tea in thanks, snag White from his game of stare down with the youth and, feeling a need for motion and thought, we head out and away from the Hillfolk camp… until the sky opened up on, forcing us to find this small cave. Sharing what I learned with White has helped… but… it still gives us no real clue as to how or where. We will just have to explore each entrance until we find a way in that will allow us to either get the other captives out unseen, or come from behind and attack with surprise. Either way I think it won’t be pleasant. I am not afraid of enclosed spaces, but I have to admit the thought of being beneath the ground, where the sun has never shown, fills me some trepidation.
Time enough to worry about that I think. First we must get ourselves back to the caves in one piece, and for that I must rest. Sun Rider ask your wife to watch over me until I am back under your gaze once again.