I have started this journal four times already. The Old Man ripped up the first two, and I destroyed the latter. They seemed inadequate to the task of telling my story. I will persevere this time. My tale begins in the final years of the Eleventh Century, and is about a Shepherd named Dafydd. Dafydd lived in a small village about ten miles outside of Cardiff. A minor Lordling ruled the village, holding court in a small Holdfast. The names of the Lordling, and Village are unimportant. Dafydd was married to a lass named Gwyn. The two were happy together, despite the hardships of their life. And they were about to be blessed with child.
In such a time it was custom within this village to leave gifts for a family with child at their croft or hut. A pleasant tradition. Dafydd returned from his flock one evening, long after the sun had disappeared below the horizon to find a basket woven of branches and grass sitting waiting for him. Within was a woollen blanket, food and other gifts. And there was a note attached. Unfortunately, Dafydd could not read, so he took the note and the basket to the local priest, a petty selfish little man, who would get his dues eventually. Dafydd naively asked the priest to read the note, who took one look at it and his face twisted into something more hideous than I am now. He shrieked at Dafydd, “Heretic! Receiving gifts from demons! You will burn in hell for this”
The priest left a confused Dafydd dumbstruck. Better that Dafydd had moved, perhaps? The Priest returned with the Lordling and his meagre handful of men at arms. The soldiers beat Dafydd before he could flee. Savagely.
The note read
The Old Man walks, the Old Man finds, the Old Man gives and the Old Man collects
Young Dafydd did not, at that time, know the content of the note. But he was well aware of what it refers. There was, is, a legend in those parts. And all across Albion, whispered in villages and woodsman’s huts. It is the legend of the Old Man of the Woods. Rumour has it that the Old Man of the Woods is some fey creature, a forest spirit that resembles an old man. Sometimes a sickly old man. Rumour has it that the Old Man’s word is his bond and can be trusted absolutely. Rumour has it that the Old Man is a liar and a trickster. The list goes on and on. Most appropriate to Dafydd’s tale is that the Old Man looks after his land, and the people on it. He is benevolent, and stern. He gives gifts and expects deeds in return. Many speak these rumours and there are many more. This is what the people know.
It’s all true. And all false. Lies, stories and misinformation put about by the Old Man himself. I know better now.
The Priest was not happy at the appearance of a spirit of the woods that offers gifts in return for favours. It sounded too similar to demonic dealings. So the Priest had Dafydd beaten. And then they found his pregnant wife and dragged her through muck and rain to see her heretical husband face down and bleeding in the dirt. The Priest told her that she had bedded a heretic. That the offspring would be demon spawn. But that God would save the child if she denounced her husband and accepted his protection and the protection of his mortal agents.
Stinking pervert. About as pious as my arse.
Gwyn cried. She refused. She wouldn’t denounce her love. It warms a cold heart to think of that. Undeterred, the Priest and his entourage told Gwyn she would be cast from the lands as a beggar, bearing the marks of heresy and shame, once her child was taken from her and burned as a devil thing.
People call us monsters, us that feed on blood and walk by moonlight. Burning a child. It causes anger in a cold heart.
Dafydd’s gaze met Gwyn, and she could tell that he would forgive her. She denounced him as a devil thing, causing the crowd of villagers that had spawned to begin kicking him. The Lord’s Soldiers dragged Gwyn away, commanding Dafydd flee the lands, or they would execute him.
The Priest and the remaining ghoulish voyeurs left Dafydd sobbing into mud and puddles. His body was broken, and his mind was shattered, muttering to himself, “They’ve taken everything but m’croft.”
That was when he heard the voice whispering at his ear.
“The Old Man Wanders. The Old Man Chooses. The Old Man offers. Can you pay his price?”
A hand reached from shadow dragging Dafydd into a space between huts forcing him to drink foul-tasting water from a skin, never seeing the face of his benefactor. To his surprise, some of the pain he felt faded as wounds closed. The voice whispered again,
“What is yours, but you never traded for? What is yours, but was given to you? What is personal, and shared with the world? What has been taken from you?”
Dafydd was momentarily confused and then realised the answer to the riddle. “My name. The answer is my name.”
The Mycroft Journals is a serialised fiction, written in response to a roleplaying game I play in. It serves multiple purposes. It acts as a permanent reminder of what happened in the story (so, it helps us players), it acts as an advert for the game, and I think our Games Master has provided us with a compelling story, which other people should get to experience.
Featured artwork is by Barry Martin. Check out his page