Moldan’s abode, a solid wood hut built around a towering oak tree. Larger than cliffs were tall and scarier than devil’s hour of night. The top disappeared in the black cover of clouds. Only the bottom smile of the moon appeared beyond the dim line of clouds. Taller than the tree was possible.
Unnatural yellow sides and glowing red glass windows. The impossibly large tree held them strong and the top seemed to connect with the heavens above, far above the smile of the moon.
Kiona slowed her steps as she approached. It rose dreadfully high above her, like nothing she had seen before. The structure of the hut was strong, made of cut trees with not the room to stick a knife between. Painted shades of bronze, silver and gold. The mud huts of her village had nothing on this hut.
Her hand shook as she reached for the door handle, it was gold like her bangle but too soft to be solid. It bent under her grasp, tortoise shell like bumps twitched under her palm. She gasped and pulled her hand back as the door opened on its own accord.
The air rushed at her and felt soft as cobwebs but smelt of musty water. The light that poured out was disorientating, red as a blood moon and thick as fog. The floor groaned as she stepped inside. There was no going back now, she whispered a silent apology to her husband as she stepped across the threshold.
The silence was ominous as the door swung closed behind her. Latching with a tinny click. Red spilled from a single glowing ball that swung as a dead man in the middle of the room.Shifting malevolent shadows around on the walls.
“Hello?” Kiona called to the strange room.
Goose pimples rose on her arms, crawled up her neck and drowned any confidence she’d had. Her rapid heart beat seemed to echo in the empty space. The floor painted with elegant flowers but fear twisted the image in her mind and they swam up her calves. She swayed dangerously, oxygen threatening to leave her lungs before a sound snapped her to attention.
A whistle,mimicked the ‘hello’ she had called out. She stepped further into the one room hut, taking note of the walls of leather-bound writings, glass jars of plants,roots and deceasesd creatures. Eyes wide open and floating, suspended in mysterious liquid. The whole place moaned with memories of pain and Kiona’s stomach lurched.
Another whistle and Kiona turned her attention to the ceiling. Covered with bird cages, vines twisted gnarly around each attaching them high above her. One such cage swung as the whistling continued on.
Kiona stepped toward the bird cage. A breath on her shoulder warned she wasn’t alone. The cage was low, she stretched on her tip toes to peer inside.
A soft feather floated down from the bird cage. Then she saw the bird, his feathers thunderstorm blue, his breast green of the newest moss and his beak,the full of the rainbow spectrum.
The bird sat with his head hung low, on a twisted hand of a branch affixed to nothing at all. Floating in the center with his yellow talons gripped tightly. Wings hung at his sides, sad as if they forgotten flight. A yellow like the rising sun feather fell from the cage. She caught it gently in her palm.
“Are you the one whistling?” she inquired in a low voice but the bird didn’t even motion to acknowledge her. His head remained hanging, as if showing her the outcome of her disobedience. Her willing ignorance of her Raffi’s wishes for her to not approach Moldan.
Kiona turned from the bird, “I have to do this. My husband will forgive me.” Time was a lost battle. One, that no matter the words spoken or actions placed, time moved forward. She needed to complete the trade, her husband would wake soon and discover her missing.
“Moldan?” she risked a bold call to the room.
Suddenly the birdcage slammed against a solid wood pillar and feathers exploded up around the rafters. The side bent in and twisted with the misty green feathers. An eerie creak of the cage as it slowly swung with the deceased bird and a trickle of blood ran from the edge. Kiona cringed and stepped back from the cage.
“Kiona of the Thracian tribe, welcome,” a voice boomed through the hut. Capturing the silence and crushing it, other bird cages swung and birds chirped and whistled chaotically.
But there was still no person standing in the hut with her, no magic-maker,Roman-disbanded Moldan.
“Moldan, are you here? I do not see you?” She asked the empty room, the ruined birdcages, the strange filled jars. A wooden table with sheen paintings in black ink on the top, stood to her right. She ran her hand along it, the touch so cool, so perfect. The paintings were of men fighting, chopping and even with the horror of it strewn in only black and white; it was still utterly beautiful. Kiona hardly glanced up as the voice replied, I am near.
A quill pen rolled across the table top, stopping against her finger tips. The large white feather caressed her kohl painted nails.
The feather quivered from the invisible breath over her shoulder, “you must write your offer, Kiona of Thracian tribe.” Her husband’s voice drowned from her mind, “he’s rumored to be full of trickery. It would be too dangerous.” She felt no reluctance to pick up the pen. Her beauty meant nothing compared to the prospect of a babe. The paper was rolled in tight bundles on top of the table,thick and rough as if cut just now from a white pine tree. The words came easily and flowed elegantly onto the unrolled paper.
‘Beneath this thick clay mask of mine,is a beauty most would never amount to. I offer this to you, Moldan the disbanded,dissolve the mask and take off my beauty. Leave me ragged and wrinkled but with an infant to grow in my womb.’
Her hand shook from the words, not for fear of giving up her beauty but for following through with the task she was band from by her Raffi. Kiona stood back upright and held the paper loosely in her hand. She felt a tightening to the clay mask on her face and was compelled to touch to her cheek. It remained where it had been placed, refreshed each morning to protect her pearl-like beauty.
No response from Moldan. A stab of panic raced through her veins as the peyote was pushed further from her mind. The traditions had been followed, why was there no acceptance?
A sigh escaped her lips but shifted quickly as she removed her hand from her cheek and a small flake followed her hand downward. An ash dancing above the lines of her palm.She stared at the magic that clay held before turning and allowing it to sway to the floor.
A tautness began around her lips as the clay dried tighter, even then her smile still pushed through. More soft flakes fluttered to her feet as leaves falling from the sleeping tree. To start a new season, to start a new life.
“Is this it?” she inquired but still no reply. Another cool breath on her shoulder made the paper shudder. A creak to her side made her skin crawl but the sudden appearance of an animal skin made chair that rocked eerily on its own made her breath catch. Moldan was there. With the back of the chair to Kiona.
Her mouth gaped open as he stood from the dark chair. The back of his head was shaved, strong black prickles of hair covered near down to nape of his neck. He turned his head but not his body, only a side profile turned for her, Kiona could see thick stitch lines where his face had been sewn back together. His nose strong and wide took up half his face, facial hair was long but parted with white lines of scars. The dark of the hair grew half way up his cheeks and stopped only inches before his eye which turned now to peer at Kiona.
His gaze, strong through the pieces of his body that had been somehow sewn back together. The tales of Moldan the disbanded being cut to pieces by his tribe were true then, Kiona thought to herself.
The fear of his magic had caused them turn against their own and break him down, piece by piece. To ensure his magic would go no further but it had, and now Kiona had found him to ask for some of the magic herself.
Moldan pulled his gaze from Kiona and it fell to his hands, she followed the line of sight as well. The strength of his hands threatened by the greyish green stitches, they looked almost like weaved grasses that held his body together. Under the uniform stitches, his flesh was blood red and even from where Kiona stood, she could see the pulse of pain.
She hadn’t noticed the letter leave her own grasp but there it was, in his hands. The thick paper instantly stained from his blood. She put her hands behind her back, running her palms along the soft folds of deer hide to calm herself. The calm, hallucinogenic effect of the peyote was long gone from her and she was left standing with her own nerves.
With the blood from Moldan’s hands, so too did the ink seem to leak through to the other side of the paper. The posture of a Ramnes warrior stayed with him but Kiona saw something in the furrow of his brow. Her knees nearly toppled at the realization he could still deny the trade of her clay mask beauty for a babe.
He slowly turned to face her, eyes of frozen death-scape. A mouth far hidden behind not only screams of his own torture but others cries of pain at his hand. There was no compassion or love or kindness yet they were full of power. Made of guilt and secrets Kiona could not even begin to imagine.
His clothing,black as night and stiff as the worry in Kiona’s chest. If she had come all this way, ignored her husband’s wishes to be denied…
Moldan brought his hands together and a flash of light caused Kiona to look away. The shadow on the wall from the red light had the tall body of Moldan, the petite form of Kiona and the impossible outline of the flame in his hands. When she snapped her vision back to him, the letter disintegrated into a small folded envelope.
“Accepted,” the word thundered in the room before his lips had even parted.