BALLAD OF THE HEADLESS HIVELING

A HIVELING FOLK-TALE

 
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Introduction. This Nybelmarian traveller’s ballad is often heard, in various different forms and fragments, sung on merchant wagons and inns throughout Nybelmar. It originates with rumours and myths prevalent among those few traders who have to brave the passage across the desert wasteland known as “the Bucket” to the north of the dreaded Venlaken Enclave. It seems to describe a hiveling formed of pikewing moths, a rare apparition at best, but unheard of this far north of the marshes and jungle with which the moths are associated. That said, among hivelings abnormality is something of a norm, so there might be some substance to the tale.
 

In dust the Daran river flows
And weaves through wasted lands,
And those who wander there well know
The madness in its sands.

Alone in all the yawning Bucket
A single traveller strays.
Wandering lost and far from friends
For days and lonely days.

He cannot even find the river
And fears he may have crossed it
And if it’s true he’s crossed the line
His poor brief life, he’s lost it.

For over the creeping Daran river
Or thereabouts, at least,
There lurks the land of Venlaken
Where only flies can feast.

Where only dead things hold their way,
And skeletons live like kings,
And bones grow from the ground like trees,
And the blackened unicorn sings.

It is a land of sickness
In soul and flesh and mind,
The traveller shudders, fearing what
His wandering feet might find.

One night he dreamed of Love herself
Her face all smiles and light,
And waking, felt less like himself
Than he thought perhaps he might.

He dreamed the same night after night
In smiles she drank his heart,
Devouring piece by painful piece,
With all her cursed art.

By day he found he scarce could stand
And could not find his way;
The malice of the Bucket wastes
Turns memories to clay.

Beset by tempting wights by night
And thirst and fear by day,
He lay down in the deathly dust
And wished to fade away.

He could not tell how long he lay,
But by and by a sound
Of rustling wings like breaking strings
Rose up from all around.

“Perhaps,” he said, “you are a Lost One
Come to hunt the living?
I’ve not much life in me, I think
But what there is I’m giving.”

The apparition did not speak
But drew itself together
A figure made from pikewing moths
With wings of painted leather.

The moths were hundreds, tightly swarmed
As strong and firm as flesh
But shifting always, breaking apart
To build its form afresh.

He cringed away with fearful eyes
And dared not ask its name;
A tremor in its movements
Spoke of madness and of shame.

It stood and started over him
And soon he saw with dread:
The eerie figure made of moths
Lacked a mothy head.

At last he found the strength to speak,
Though fear clawed at his throat
He bid it speak and tell its name
If it could sound the notes.

Of course it could not speak to him;
It had no mouth or tongue.
But in the rustling of the wings
It seemed faint words were sung.

It paced and gestured round him flying
And seemed to build a voice
From feverish murm’ring thrill of wings-
He listened, had no choice.

“I am more lost than you are, sir
More lost than any wight
The only things I have are these;
My tale, and your own sad plight.

“The first I can do naught but tell
The second may be elsewise
But can a maddened ghost foretell
Where mortal fortune lies?

“I lost a treasure; one of six
I dropped it in the deep
I put my head inside because
I thought then I might sleep.

“It was a box of willow wood
And still I hear it weeping
Drowned with my mind, and yet I find
I’m mad for never sleeping.

“You shift and scowl, you think I stray
From reason in my tale
And that is true, or at the least
As true as desert sails.

“The box was one of six, I said
And now I say again.
Two boxes for the start and end
For why and how and when.

“They were both lost so long ago
Or might have never been.
They were the first and last of what
Was told by the four between.

“Four boxes carved with ancient words
And holding things inside
A whistle, a flint, a knife, a bell
Keys to where ancients hide.

“They were our treasures and our burden
And we would bear them always
But always is a longer time
Than any moth-life stays.

“I’ve died by inches since the first
At first I did not heed it
But when war stole our minds away
The loss seemed but to feed it.

“I want to sleep, to die, to fade
But when I do, I wake
A mind in a box that should hold a bell
In a broken-mirror lake.

“I lost the bell when I first came here
Stolen by dancing fae
Who mocked me for my sanity
And now I’m mad as they.

“They gave me back my voice though,
Or near as I can tell.
I used to have a bell-like voice
Or was that not the bell?

“I cannot say, it makes no sense
My mind is far away
Lying with my voice, the bell
In the box where it must stay.”

The moth-made-form grew still at that
And the wings sang low and sweet
And he took its hands and wordless he
Was set upon his feet.

He followed its flight from day to night
By night it swarmed around him
And kept away the dreaming face
That in smiles had all but drowned him.

One day the moth-ghost pointed out
Across the dusty plain,
And said “A day that way and you
Might find your way again.”

“But don’t look back as you go on,
Stepping over Oblivion’s Call
Something stirs in every life
And I cannot recall...”

The traveller stepped away but when
The moth-ghost spoke no more
He paused and asked “Cannot recall?
Recall what? And what for?”

He stayed, not looking back, but still
There followed no reply
So turning, smiling bright, he said
“Thank you, and goodbye.”

“Thank you, and goodbye”, he said
But then he said no more
For where the moth-form once had been
Wild pikewings swarm and roar.

Dreams are fearsome things, it’s true
And ghosts and desert wastes
But little stands up ‘gainst a moth
With such carnivorous tastes.
 


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Folk tale written by Seth Ghibta View Profile