THE NOHOPUKU

A HIVELING FOLK-TALE

 
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Introduction. This myth of the 'Vikh people is generally held to be something of an origin tale; explaining the strange apparitions they call "Nohopuku", meaning literally "I will not speak". Nohopuku are an extraordinary phenomenon in themselves – a hiveling composed of the dangerous needlefly, and one of the only kind of hivelings held to be universally dangerous – they will consume any creature which offers them an entrance – usually, as this myth illustrates, an open mouth.
 

ush now, and listen.

Hush now, for my tale is a dark and quiet one, and you would do well to pay close attention.

Hush, now...

Don’t say a word.

Do you hear that? The song of the forest. This is the voice of life itself, so strong and ancient that it never needs rest. Everything sings, even if it has no voice. Of course, it is our role to sing for those that cannot sing for themselves.

There is music in the midst of silence, more than anyone can hear or understand.

If you remember that, and loose your tongue too freely, it may just save your life.

There was a young man; we will call him Vense, a clever, beautiful, impetuous man with a dark eyed, passionate face, pale and delicate as a carving in ivory; and he believed he was in love with a woman. What she, who was named Csaer, had to say about this didn’t greatly affect him; he believed nonetheless that he was greatly in love. She, though, was inclined to be thoughtful, to listen; strange, clever girl! to what the older women said, and she learnt that the strange, dangerous darkness about him meant more than just an impetuous nature. It meant Tehuriden, and as everyone knows, that meant he would be sent away. She didn’t want the fleeting love of an exile; whether or not he sung her songs about the way she walked, her feet touching the ground as lightly as fish touch the surface of a still pool. And she told herself she should expect more than that, if only for his sake, because footsteps can’t keep a heart forever. And that is what she told herself.

So tactfully, but never too softly, she turned away his promises to love her forever, and smilingly she told him to save his love for the moon, who could better live up to his expectations, and who would follow him wheresoever he went.

She turned away from impetuous Vense, and chose instead a quieter man. His eyes were palest grey, flecked with gold like the eyes of a smiling frog, and he had no skill in singing. But she liked him very well. You want to know his name? Listen, then; his name was Blau.

Whilst the girl Csaer grew closer to Blau, she allowed herself to forget Vense, though he by no means forgot her. His bitter disappointment at being rejected met with his fear and anger at being exiled, and they boiled together and mixed like blood and water, tainting eachother. He grew reclusive and terribly angry, forever lurking on the edges of the forest, singing baleful songs of revenge and justice. Every day he wove the names Csaer and Blau into his songs, hurling those names together into the thick forest air, plotting the most terrible vengeances. His singing was like a heavy storm-cloud knotting itself among the trees, and his rage attracted the flies, who are forever hungry for such things.

He would go out, away from all people, both of the Tehuriden and our own, he would stand alone in the forest and sing, not minding that the sweat soaking his face made it covered with insects, with needleflies. He did not bat them away, though they bit him, for he felt the needleflies were alike to him; forever hungry, never satisfied. The needleflies covered his face, drank his blood, spread across his body and he stood, still, ignoring the pain. Something approached. A spirit of the earth, seeing his bravery and anger, had watched him as he sang. Something in the words of Vense’s chants, in his need for revenge, reached out to this lonely spirit of the soil and mud, and it changed it. The spirit became more human, as Vense became less so. The spirit approached Vense, with his black mask of needleflies, and it spoke to him, in a voice as soft as leafmould, its breath the heavy scent of mud after rain. “Child you are so hungry, what is it you desire?”

Vense replied in a voice thick from the needlefly bites; “I desire only one thing, and that is to be revenged on the woman who scorned me.”

The spirit approached the needleflies, still gorging on the blood of Tehuriden Vense. “Flies, you are so insatiable, what will it take for you to be sated?”

They replied, in a thousand tiny, sharp voices; “we will know satiation only if we have two things: a body to share as one and a clever mind to think with, to tell us when we have drunk our fill.”

The spirit looked at the boy and the flies, and he weighed up their respective wishes. “It is decided, then; this boy shall give his mind to the needlefly swarm – he will be their controller, and in this way he will have the power to claim the vengeance he needs. The needleflies will in this way have a mind, and a face, for the boy will also give his face. But not the whole body, for then you would be too powerful. And this creature will be called Nohopuku. You will devour all who raise their voices against you.”

Vense considered this. He asked “but how will I speak, if I am a creature made only of rustling flies? What will become of my voice?”

The spirit looked at him, with eyes so very old, and in their depths glinted something perhaps not so old, for as I say this spirit was maybe a little more human, a little more like Vense than he would like to know. It said “your voice I will keep for my own, as payment for this service.” And then it smiled at him in a new and cunning way, and then it changed him and the needleflies, as it had said. When it was finished, my friends, a new, terrible creature slid into the dark forest, buoyed on the rustling song of its own wings. All that was left was a human shell- a faceless, voiceless, mindless body, left like a doll in the forest.

Hush, now. Don’t say a word.

A time not worth mentioning later, Blau and Csaer set out to hunt Meandrel, in the company of two other friends. They walked spread out, though Csaer kept close to Blau, clinging to his arm and listening happily as he said very little, in the quiet way that she loved. Up ahead, they heard a soft rustling, like falling feathers. They supposed it was someone kicking up dead leaves, and walked on. A little closer now, they heard frantic a burst of song, of the kind that dispels dangerous creatures. It never finished, but was muffled suddenly, as if the singer choked upon his own tongue. They supposed their friend was making some joke, and walked on, if, perhaps, a little warily.

They came up on the clearing, and saw one of their friends standing there, so they asked him what the game was. “Don’t speak!” he cried, “It’ll come back, just please, don’t say a wor-.” His shout was cut in half by the whine of a thousand thousand needlefly wings. A great swarm, bigger and thicker than any they’d seen poured into the clearing, and Csaer realised with a jolt of fear that one of her friends, a powerful singer whose voice she had heard just heartbeats ago, was nowhere to be seen. The swarm – no, it wasn’t just a swarm of mindless flies, but something far more subtle and purposeful than that – approached the man who had tried to warn Csaer and Blau. Boiling like stormclouds, like water churned by a starwell phaert, like the cooking pot of the moon himself, the swarm-creature (and of course, it was the Nohopuku) rose up. It coiled and pulsed like a living thing fighting with itself, until suddenly it formed a great face, which hung suspended in front of the terrified group.

Csaer gasped in recognition – was this not Vense who grinned so terribly down on them? She knew, then, that it was her rejection that had brought this monster after them. She knew this as the swarm opened wide its fly-formed mouth in a silent roar that froze the blood in her veins. She knew as she watched; as if it was a play acted out before her eyes, the man who had tried to warn her, who had seen his own friend devoured so recently, scream in fear under the senseless fury of the Nohopuku. She knew with every nail and hair of her body that it was her fault, as the Nohopuku poured itself into that man’s open mouth, filling him up with hungry, biting flies. She knew it was her fault as she watched them drink him dry. Blau was tugging her hand, pulling her away, as she watched the last gasping, choking breaths of the man devoured from inside, and saw the flies fountain out, and reform into that beautiful, horrible face. The transformed face of Vense looked down at them with a terrible anger, and it was all she could do not to cry out in shock.

Poor Csaer and Blau, mute with guilt and horror, could only run. But the Nohopuku was fast. It followed, unhindered by wind, but driven on by the unflinching rage that burned in Vense’s mind, thirsting always for Csaer’s blood, for the smell of her tears of grief. Every fly buzzed with the thought of what was to come. They would make her beg to give her life. They would take all that she loved, and drink it dry as dust.

They ran, and though they were panicked as fishes caught in barbed nets, they told themselves silently, with every gasping breath, that they mustn’t cry out, they mustn’t speak, or they would be consumed, as the others had before them. They ran, and ran, and ran again, but still the Nohopuku followed. They were tired from fear and grief; their feet tattered and spattered with scratches. They came to a hill and Blau stumbled. Fell. He tumbled down the slope like a child’s toy, whilst Csaer, just steps ahead, wheeled round and pressed her hands over her lips, to keep from screaming her panic.

The Nohopuku was upon them.

Blau tried to get up, pushed himself to his feet, scraped and dirty, but the swarm was all around him before he had taken a step towards poor Csaer, frozen in terror, unable to move a step further from her poor, captured Blau. Blau looked at the Nohopuku swarming around him so thick, but not yet biting, as if it were playing with him, only playing. I will not speak. He thought. The swarm gathered itself before him, and made itself into the terrible face which had once been Vense. It snarled, and roared, always as silent as the rustling of wings. I will not speak, thought Blau, and Csaer thought much the same, though tears ran down her face and blurred her vision, so that Blau was only a murky, half-lost shape amid the grey-flickering miasma of needleflies. The Nohopuku seemed to see this wasn’t scaring the two enough, and formed itself into a great, thick fingered hand, the size of a marshoak and just as strong. It reached out, and gripped Blau, but he would not part his lips even to gasp. I will not speak, sir, he thought. I will not speak.

The Nohopuku was too hungry now to control itself much more; it began to bite Blau, all over his skin, thousands of times, but he still wouldn’t cry out. I will not speak, I will not... He looked imploringly at Csaer, and she wiped enough of the tears away to stare into his gold-flecked eyes, and she knew that he wanted her to run and save herself. Csaer ran, biting her tongue so that blood filled her mouth to keep from screaming with grief. She ran, with his gold speckled eyes filling her head. She ran until she fell down outside her home, and her tongue was bitten all through. Tears mixed with blood and fell to the ground, and she would not, could not, ever speak again.

For days, she didn’t speak, or eat. Her friends and family knew something terrible has happened, but what could they possibly do for this girl who was their most beautiful, but who returned to them silent and hollow eyed, her mouth full of blood and her own tongue bitten out by the force of her horror and grief. They talked to her in hushed voices, and when children passed outside her house, they told each other “hush, now, hush. Csaer is mourning, don’t say a word.”

And then, one day, a man came to her hut in the night, walking as if his feet might not touch the ground. He had no face, but she recognised him as by his long legs that used to step so proudly, so fiercely, as if they expected to shake the ground with each step. This surely was Vense. She was not scared. But this was not quite a man that came to her; it was what’s left of one after he gives his hate and passion to the Nohopuku. It came to her with hands open, and stood outside her door waiting. She knew what it wanted – she’d been keeping it in a little box of waterfruit wood, wrapped in feathers. She took her tongue out of the box, and placed it in the hands of the faceless man. Silently, he turned and walked back into the forest, and she followed him, with a silence more melancholy and heavier than any other in the soft night. They walk until they are far away from the places that people go, and then the Nohopuku assembled in front of them. She was not scared. She had lost her fear with her tongue, with Blau.

The faceless man stepped up to the Nohopuku, and briefly turned back to Csaer, as if he would have looked at her, had he eyes to look with. There seemed something tender and melancholy in this piteous creature, where the Nohopuku was only furious and harsh. The flies buzzed impatiently, and loomed over the faceless man, but he seemed to be trying to tell it something. He held out the tongue, in its little box, cushioned by feathers, and gestured at sullen, hollow-eyed Csaer. The Nohopuku formed its cruel mouth into a snarl, buzzed angrily at the faceless man, impatient and uncomprehending. Csaer watched, impassive as she could be, though there was something hopeful and earnest in the gestures of the faceless man, that reminded her of Blau, even a little bit of Vense, in his way, in the long ago time when he had not been an angry, vengeful spirit but a human boy who believed he was in love. She watched as the faceless man proffered her tongue and then gestured at the Nohopuku, and at herself. She began to understand.

It seemed the Nohopuku did as well, my friends. The faceless man had brought Csaer’s tongue – the symbol of all her suffering and pain, the proof that he had won, had defeated and humiliated her – why should she die? Why not live on in silence? Instead, let us take this blood sacrifice, and let us devour the faceless ragdoll, the last pathetic vestige of our former, powerless self?

It swarmed around the faceless man, holding his gift of Csaer’s tongue, and she was shocked to see him writhe soundlessly as he is sucked bloodless by the forever-hungry flies. She couldn’t help but sob, in the memory of what must have happened to her poor, quiet Blau, and as her eyes misted with tears, she spun her own silent, sharp song, like the death-cry of some lonely bird, whose wings spanned the whole of the dark waters of the forest that night. A mourning song with more breath than sound behind it, in memory of the echoes of Blau, and of the shell of a man, who still felt pain even without a face or a voice to cry out.

Maybe it was her song, calling out to some spirit that wished to put something right that had been made wrong when that earth spirit first let itself listen to Vense’s angry songs. Maybe it was the last struggle of the strange, sad faceless man, who shouldn’t have had a mind but who seemed to have hung onto something of Vense's that he was never aware he possessed. Maybe in that struggle as the lifeblood drained from him, he was able to reach into the spirit of the Nohopuku and pull something out, to take his place as he drifted into the dark waters of death. Nobody can tell why it happened, but the Nohopuku lost something when it devoured the faceless man.

When she recovered herself, the swarm creature was gone, satisfied, for now, and ready to sleep, contented, for many, many moons. She stepped sadly over to the crumpled form left on the moss to be devoured by night creatures, and was astonished to see it stir, ever so slightly. Trembling so she could barely stand, she touched him ever-so soft on the shoulder, and he flinched, a shudder so alive, so familiar, that she smiles despite her newly welling tears. He uncurled, just a little, and took his hands down, away from the face, the face that wasn’t there before. The faceless man had gone, but in his place, quiet and golden-eyed as ever, was her Blau. She tried to speak, sobbing silently and forgetting her lost tongue, the bloody price paid to regain her stolen love. She tried to ask the spirits of the forest how the Nohopuku could be so cruel and yet so strangely compassionate, to return what it had stolen? But she had no tongue; she only sobbed and whimpered; the smallest, loudest noise in that dark forest.

Blau looked up at her and smiled, so shy and so quiet, and she took him desperately in her arms and helped him sit up, though he was so weak she again tried to cry out. Tears streamed down her face, and she was silent and loud and so terribly happy the whole forest echoed with it.

Hush, now, he said.

In times later, the Nohopuku would realise that it had been cheated, and it would come back looking for Csaer, to quench its forever-thirst. It never found her, for between each meal it sleeps for a hundred moons, for a lifetime or more. But nevertheless it is hungry when it wakes, and old and predatory as any creature can be. It will search the forests for anyone who will speak to it, and the second they open their lips it will dive down their throats and eat them from inside.

So, my friends, what do we answer when the Nohopuku asks us its wordless, buzzing questions?

>Silence traditionally greets this question, though usually it is interspersed with the inevitable giggles of nervous excitement. <

I didn’t hear your reply, friends. What is our answer to mister Nohopuku?

>Silence, or thereabouts. <

Ahhh. I see you know exactly how to reply.
 


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Folk tale written by Seth Ghibta View Profile