The Goat Path; Part 1Mature



There was once a young man who had been name Plinth by his father, though none knew why a father would give his son such a name and all were too polite to ask. The village Plinth was born into was  small and nestled in the highlands near the ancient lake of Nualgoe, though this name had long ago been forgotten and the people of the village had given it their own. Spring Lake they called it though it was a lake still when the Fall came and in the Winter too but in the Spring, when it was all in faded blues and bright greens, the the preacher would travel up to the lake to bless its waters. Folks would leave small parcels of wheat or cheese at the water's edge. The lake was vast and mysterious, and had spawned strange stories that the townsfolk would tell in hushed voices by the fireside on dark of nights. Some claimed that as they went upon the lake, they had looked down and seen the tops of towers in hazy deep.

When Plinth’s father died, leaving him very much alone in the world, the boy was passing into manhood and just old enough to take over the farm, which was modest. He did a fair job of it too and the farm did not want for care. Plinth showed up in all the normal places a young man ought to; he was in church every Sunday to hear the good word and at the market every other Saturday with cart load of produce. The only thing odd about the lad was his habit of wandering about at night. Folks would say they had seen him walking in the hills, in the planes, and along the edge of the lake and the old wives said no good would come of it. They said that it was a sign he was made for wandering.

Late one night after the winter solstice festival Plinth walked, his mind was still too full of the night’s events for any amount of sleep to seep into it, so he walked. That night he walked farther than he had before, making all the way around to the other side of the lake where there was a long low stretch of sand that looked white in the moonlight. By the time he came to this spot his legs begged him give them rest, so placing himself on smooth high stone he cast his gaze over the lake and the shore. As he sat the mist seemed to gather and swirl along the sandy shore until he imagined he saw figures in walking in it. The longer he sat and looked the more he began to think there really were three people walking toward him. Soon the figures were close enough that he could see them as women, tall and lovely in the moonlight. He was overcome by their beauty and stood up desiring to speak to them and when they saw him come they seem to laugh pleasantly to each other. Plinth took heart in this but as he came near enough that he might have called to them the mist faded, and he found himself alone on the edge of the lake.

The next day he told his friends of the strange happenings but they laughed and mocked him saying that Mary Connell had a fair enough eye for him that he need not go inventing fairy lasses out of mist. Plinth paid them little heed and went out the following night to place he had seen the phantoms. He had more desire than hope of seeing anything on the sandy plot and he had just convince himself that it was all an imagining of his own heart when the mist came and he saw again the three ladies as they paced slowly along the bank. They seemed to be aware of him at length for one who was youngest of her sisters would glance toward where he sat and the other two lifted their fine white hand to cover their smiles.  Plinth had held himself in place up till this point but now the desire to go and speak to these ladies came so hard upon him that he could hold himself back no more. He rose and approached but just as before, and the mist faded and they were gone just as before.

Plinth was a simple farmer but he had cleverness in his own way and now a passion to drive it. Coming up as a child he would sit with the old who enjoyed telling tales as they had been told to them and Plinth had absorbed these tales. He knew that three was a number of importance if not of power, and though he could not gather why, it was not common for any person to be given more than a third chance when dealing with the creatures of the fay. Knowing this, he made for the small wattle hut out past the edge of town where old Neg lived. Now old Neg’s madness was as certain as the sunrise but it was said that she knew things and would tell them to you, if only you could untangle meaning from her twisted phrazes. So, Plinth made his way to her with a gift of a large round of cheese.  

Even before he came up to the hut there were sounds as if she was already entertaining and the door was open as he approached. He leaned low and called from the entryway, “Old Neg the wise, it is I, farmer Plinth, come seeking your wisdom.”

The sounds of conversation stopped and suddenly the crone’s face appeared in the doorway. “Of cores you have,” she said as she took the round from his hands, “and thank you kindly for this fine cheese. Now come in with you before the Moon my jealous lover smites you dead.”

Plinth cast a wary eye about before he entered wondering if such a thing was possible. He could see the crone had made her cook fire in the center of the hut with flue hole in the center of the roof above it. “Blasted old beast hangs up there in the sky all night long peeping down at me,” Neg began as she made a place for Plinth to sit, “why, should I cover that there peeping hole, in the midst of my roof, even for a minute he creeps up pressing his face against the reeds of my hut and his foul breath streams through and fills the place right up till I can’t breath a bit.” Neg paused and started slicing a bit of cheese and just as Plinth was about speak she started again, “It’s not unlike you and the keyhole you been peeping through with out the scents or wit to knock on the door nor find the key. Not that anyone would answer if you did knock but I am just saying it is worth a try if you didn’t know any better, but now you do, so don’t. Alright? Just go get the key.” Plinth blinked and still not feeling entirely sure what else to do so he did it again. Neg smiled, looking at him expectantly as she tasted the cheese.

“I am sorry. What key?”

“Well bread dear! What else would it be?” she said handing him a small bit of cheese.

Plinth eyed the offering, “Cheese.” He said hopefully not sure what they were talking about.

“Well if you must, I guess it could be cheese just as well as it could be bread but honestly you’d do better with the bread.”

“I am sorry. Did you want me to come back with bread them?”

“What do I want bread for? I don’t want to open any doors. There a lot of tricky little buggers.”

“Who is?”, Plinth asked feeling totally bewildered.

“The doors, didn’t I just say that? Once they’re open they never want to close but you’ll figure that one out on your own so just get your bread then, O’cores make sure its proper lake bread. Now off with you!”

“Wait! How do I get that? The ‘Proper Lake Bread’ that is,” Plinth asked as the crone began to gently usher him to the door.

“I guess you could try given some to the lake and maybe it will be so kind as to return the favor. Now I would NOT come back again if I was you, or the Moon will kill you for sure,” she said as he stepped out the door.

The entire walk back, Plinth tried to recreate the conversation in his head but in the end decided he would have to give bread to the lake though he wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t be a solution for some entirely different problem.

Plinth could understand how it was that the old crone had gotten a reputation for being a bit insane but at the same time there seemed to be a sort of order nestled behind her method. Plinth wondered if madness was  simply the price one must pay for understanding too much of how the world works.

The next day Plinth went out upon the lake, in a small boat, with a large fresh loaf of sweet bread still warm and smelling fine.  Reaching near enough to the lakes center he stop and began to made a formal gift of the bread to the lake wearing his finest, as is the custom, and placed the loaf into the water with a respectful bowing of the head.

For the rest of the day he chided himself for his silliness and the waste of a lovely loaf of sweet smelling bread but after night fell this did not stop him from venturing out once more with the intention of walking the stretch of land that wrapped around the lake to its far end.

Coming near to the spot where he had landed the small boat and drawn it up on to the green grass, he could hear the knocking of the wind driven waves as they met the lake’s edge and there in the dim light he saw something that might have been a large stone but it was right between the lake and the boat’s keel. Plinth approached telling himself it was anything other than what he hoped it would be and even if it was it still was something else. He reach the object, he knelt down and saw it was wrapped in fine linen of faded blues and bright greens. There was a knot at the top that Plinth untied and the linens unfolded revealing a round cake of brightest golden color that was sliced into wedges that pulled away from the center as the wrapping was undone. This was like a thing for a king and far too rich for a joke or he would have been sure it was the doing of his friends. Still, Plinth looked around and saw no one near and wrapped the cake back up and made quickly for the lake’s far side carrying the package in his arms.

Once he was away from where the town’s folk frequent, he felt lighter as if he had just made away with something and a small bounce came into his step. Holding the package to his chest the smell of it came up, wafting about his nose. It was like vanilla and myrtle pepper but better than both, it made his head feel giddy and he started to hum a strange tune that came from where he knew not. All the doubt and disbelief were driven from his mind by the sweet spicy smell. The night seemed so full of sounds and sights that it seemed a land of wonders as he passed through it. He heard sounds he had never heard before like the cheerful music of some stringed instrument as he passed near a large ancient and solitary stone jutted up from the  grass and everywhere it seem there were bright little eyes peering out at him. Soon he came to the little beach where he would wait for the mist to gather and as he waited the moon waxed full and low like a heavy fruit pulling down its branch. It cast a bright yet soft light and as the first strand of mist began to form off the surface of the water his heart quickened. The mist grew and shifted until the vague figures began to appear at a distance just as they always hand.

He untied bundle and let the slices of the rich cake splay before him and of these selected one, lifting it to him mouth he took a bite and tasted a flavor that was unlike any in the world you and I know. Nor was eating it like eating anything you or I have ever eaten, it was more like drinking or breathing for it was a simple natural thing that seemed to flow. He might easily have eaten the whole cake but as he finished the first slice he restrained himself for knowing better than to be greedy and bundle it back up. With the fragrant fire of the spices still playing on his lips and making his head light, the three figures approached.

Sliding off his sitting stone, and moved toward the three ladies as they move trackless over the soft sand. Coming nearer they seem to flush with detail and color as his own world seemed to fade. The things around them still look the same but somehow seemed less real in contrast. As he approached, he hailed them and they seemed very surprised at this and look to one another in wonder. They asked his name where he had come from and very soon they were speaking of many things. They had many question and seemed delighted with things he thought quite mundane but to them seemed quite magical and fantastic. Once after mentioning his farm, one asked what a farm was and he did his best to explain. The idea of bring forth food from the ground provoked laughter from the three that sounded like a dozen little bells.

They kept good company until the sky warmed in color heralding the dawn, then they bid him goodbye and the youngest of the sisters who seemed very kind and had be quite shy whispered they would walk here again the next night and if it please he might come again.

For three nights total this went on and each night farmer fell more in love with the youngest of the sister who would look up at him with large blue green eyes. So as the dawn came near on the third night the spirit came over him and he asked her hand in marriage, saying he had little but the simple life of a farmer’s wife to offer her. A smile of the most radiant warmth spread over her face like the rising sun and she said she would take that life most whole heartedly. While her two sisters carried great joy for her the eldest was more tempered and warned the farmer that their father was also the king of their land and would only allow the union so long as the farmer treated his daughter gently. Should Plinth strike her but three times, she and all that was wrought by her would return to their father’s kingdom.  The farmer Plinth laughed and said it is only fool who strikes that which he loves.

The two were married by the priest out of doors before the eyes of god and they returned to his small farm where they stayed up late into the night wreathed in each other. The next day a shepherd boy would tell of how, while tending his flock up near Spring Lake, he had heard the most distinct sound of many great bells tolling from within the vast and mysterious waters. Of those that heard the shepherd’s story some told him that it was wrong to tell tales while others wondered at the affair and remarked that the young farmer had come by a new wife none had ever seen before that same day.

Time passed and young Plinth’s farm did well. His bride was both clever as well as industries and though Plinth would not have thought it possible his heart cleaved to her even more as the months passed. However, not all days can be good days and though he loved her more than life, his young wife had a queer ways in many things and would often anger when others would have given thanks and rejoice when others saw only reason to mourn. As it was on the day when the two of them went to the church for the christenings on a babe to whom Plinth was to be God Father for it was a child of his closest friend. The babe was brought to font and the water was sprinkle upon its brow and the Plinth’s wife who had little tears beading at the edges of her eyes now broke into full mournful and inconsolable fit. She wailed and cried and when he could do nothing else to calm her Plinth stroke her across the cheek as to bring her to sense. After his hand had landed she looked up at him, blinking away tears. “That is the first time you have struck me,” she said gravely and Plinth apologized but he did not understand. You seen he had forgotten the condition on which he had been married and when his wife had said it was the first time he had struck her she had meant it was the first of three that could be allowed. However, thinking he understood she said nothing more.

Time passed and she brought forth two sons who were strong and full of curiosity about the world, and the farm was doing better than ever. They had taken on help after opening additional fields and building a large coop that was filled with chickens. Then came the day of the funeral when the hearse drove up the lawn and casket was lowered into its hole when a Plinth realized the strange noise he had been hearing from his wife was a low humming and the sound began to grate on his mind and his sorrow for the departed and in the midst of the preacher’s speech she laughed as if nothing could have been more delightful and Plinth’s hand flew without thought and even as it landed on her cheek he was fill with regret. She looked at him with hurt and with shock. “That is the second time you have struck me,” she said meaning that it was the second of the three that would mean there parting forever. Plinth did not remember and so he did not understand but he kissed her face and begged her forgiveness and so she said no more.

The third time it happened, as I am sure you have guessed it would though perhaps you hoped it wouldn’t, some years had passed. The two sons had been growing stronger as had the farm and the farmer’s wife had give birth to a girl. The children were in the care of a mid wife, while Plinth and his wife attended a wedding. In the middle of the ceremony Plinth’s wife began to cry and a spectacle so Plinth gripped her arm tightly. Guiding her to the door he had sat them near and once they were outside and away from the event her turned on his wife. “What is this? Why do shame me in public this way?” he yelled and as her eyes opened to meet his, she saw only his hand. The strength to blow shifted her weight away from her feet and she began to fall but she did not touch the ground. Suddenly Plinth stood alone wide eyed and stunned as his mind race to understand what had happened. Then as a sudden and sickening blow hit him as the words of his wife’s sister came to him from that day on the lake so long ago and suddenly he understood. He suddenly felt his world spin and he sickened, his stomach rejecting its contents. As soon as his legs would allow he began to run. He raced as if all the hounds of hell had come to devour his soul, but his speed served to only more quickly confirmed his fears. He had struck his wife thrice, and now she and all she had wrought were gone. Plinth’s eyes blurred with wetness cast over the where his life had been but now there was only an empty farm house and vast fields. There had not been any aspect of his life where she and he had not worked together and now it was all gone. He thought of his children and of his wife and hard comfortless ground rose to catch him.

Time passed but now there was no joy. There was only hard bitter loneliness and regret. At times he sat by the edge of the great lake and wondered if he had the courage to drown himself in its waters. He sat long into the night without the motivation to move. It was sometime after the sun had risen to shine hard on him that he woke. Sitting up he looked around not sure where he was and not sure it mattered when and otherworldly scent caught in his nose and looking around he saw a large white rock over a crevasse that he himself had placed there. Moving the rock he reached in and pulled up the bundled cake missing one slice. He stood and carrying the cake down into the waters until it slashed at his elbows and he placed cake into the water letting it sink before he left the place.

Over the next few days he set about selling off nearly everything that was left and when the deals were done and everything was settled and shouldered a large pack that was now the soul container of all that he owned and began his trek away from the village that had always been his home. You see when he had been to married the lady of the lake she had taught him more just tricks to growing good strong crops. They had over the years spoken of many things and now he racked his brain as he set out in grim determination to be reunited with his family though he as of yet had no idea how he would do it. As he set down the road never to see his home again, he was armed with not but a large collection of stories and old pack bursting at the seams. He would soon hate the pack for the way it would cut into his shoulders but for now the weight was a strange comfort as if it was the only thing keeping him from falling into the sky. He would go first to the nearby village where there had been stories of a hobgoblin and from there he did not know.


The End

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