Sub-title: “The Witch Hunters of Otnasnom”
Bed Time Stories
“Lang, Lang Syne, afore time was even measured, there was nothing save the Light. Twas then the Light created the worlds, and life began—” Gerard stopped reading, and watched as his young daughter clambered out from under the bed covers. Then, as she sat on his lap, she began turning the pages, looking for a new story for him to read. Athena stopped at one especially ornate page, and pointing at it,
“This one Daddy.”
In-between the pages Athena was pointing at, there was a multicoloured bookmark that had, until now, been hidden from view. The bookmark had intricate needlework running its full length. Gerard tried to stop himself from crying, the bookmark had belonged to his wife, and he had not seen it since before her death. All this time it had been resting in this ancient tome of a book. Athena was now asking him to read what was possibly the last story Fenella had read before she had died whilst giving birth to their daughter.
Gerard stared at the pages for a long time, not seeing what was there, just contemplating the significance of the bookmark. Had Fenella read these pages aloud to Athena while she was still in the womb?
“Read to me Daddy. Read to me.”
Athena kept asking her father until Gerard’s eyes focused on the page and he started to read.
“You are aware of the legend of Zanta Klaus.”
“From the beginning Daddy, from the beginning.”
Gerard took a breath and smiled, his daughter was getting better at reading, she could tell when he skipped parts. She now wanted to know where the story came from, as much as the story itself. Athena curled up against her father and Gerard started from the beginning of the page,
“This is a direct Elven translation of the faery tale of Zanta Klaus, it is said it was told as a warning or prophecy. The origin of which can be dated back to shortly after King Ahab disbanded the Guardians of the Gates of Hell.”
Gerard stopped for a moment, faery tales he had no problem with, yet he held a disdain for anything that claimed to be a prophecy of a future event. Athena’s small hands were shaking her father’s arm as she said,
“Read to me Daddy, don’t stop.”
Gerard picked up where he had left off,
“It is said that after the Faery Council of Otnasnom gave the prophecy, all the faeries left Otnasnom within a few days, and have never been seen there since.”
Gerard turned to Athena and said,
“Remember your Great Grand Parents came from Otnasnom many years ago. They brought this book with them.”
Gerard looked at the dates on the page, they coincided with the time his Grandparents left Otnasnom. He decided he would ask his Grandfather about it the next time they travelled to his village.
“Read to me Daddy.”
She shook his arm until Gerard started reading again.
“You are aware of the legend of Zanta Klaus. He will be known by many peoples, and by many names. This is how he will be known to the followers of the Light. He will be born of two kingdoms to unite all the good people. He will have a sister, not of his blood. He will make his transition from childhood to a man with a baptism of demon’s blood. He will save the good people from the demon hordes. Children will call his name and he shall be known as Zanta Klaus, the demon legends call him Santa Claus. He will be able to tell good from evil, even when it is hidden. He will face Death and rise to stand against the forces of the dark. He will lead the followers of the Light. Where he goes, the light will follow.”
When Athena fell asleep, Gerard turned the pages in the book, thinking about the bookmark and trying not to think about why his wife had been interested in that page. Gerard closed the book, then tucked Athena into her bed and went into the main room of their cottage taking the book with him. The smell of incense was thick in the air from the festival celebrations earlier that evening. Gerard took one last look at the large ornately covered book, gently running his fingers over the embossed crest on the front cover of the ancient tome before returning it to its place of honour on the shelf of the bookcase.
He always enjoyed reading stories to Athena, and she especially loved hearing the stories at bedtime, for it was then that Gerard would bring out the family heirloom from the bookcase. It had been handed down for centuries to the first born and Gerard had told Athena that one day it would become hers. It told of faery stories and legends from ancient times, from centuries, millennia past, and even before time was counted as it was today. From a time before Elves even put a pen to scroll. As far back to a time when legends were passed down by storytellers going from village to village and earning food and a bed for the night by entertaining the villagers with stories collected from far and wide.
Gerard looked around the room, then after pouring himself a drink, he went outside to his rocking chair. He wondered again about the bookmark and if the pages had held any significance to his wife, or was it just by chance that those were the last pages his wife read. Gerard wondered why his wife had chosen to read that story. He also wondered why he had never seen that story before. Gerard was sure he had looked at every page in the book several times over the years, had the Book hidden them from him because it knew of his disdain of prophecies? Gerard briefly contemplated the thought, what if the Book had decided that it was time for the prophecy to be told again.
He took a sip of his drink and decided it was a nice evening to take a nap before going back inside to clear up. As Gerard drifted off to sleep, he started to dream of the stories his Grandfather would tell him when he was a child. He had always enjoyed his Grandfather’s stories, yet as Gerard had grown up he had treated those stories as he would any faery tale. Now all those stories were coming back to haunt him on this night as he travelled from the land of the living, and into the world of dreams.
Athena was awoken from her sleep, by sounds coming from outside her room, she got up, and went through to the main room in search of her father. When she did not find him there, Athena dragged a small stool over to the bookcase, and clambered up to reach her favourite book, she then went in search of her father, bringing the book with her.
Hearing a noise coming from the garden, Athena headed through to the kitchen, and the door to the garden where her father would sit in his rocking chair. Looking outside, she saw her father struggling with a man who appeared to be made out of black smoke. Athena called out to her father and made her way to the door,
“Stay inside, run and hide!”
Athena stared transfixed, unable to look away, her feet rooted to the spot. Watching her father try to fight the black smoke man. She watched, as her father, who had been wrenched from his dreams by the black smoke man, was now in a fight for his life with this thing that was trying to rip his soul from his body. Half asleep he tried to fight it, not knowing if he was still dreaming or if he was awake.
Athena stood holding the book, tears streaming from her eyes, watching as her father’s hands passed through the black smoke man. Each time it got close enough to her father to reach inside him for his soul, it flinched and moved back before trying again, it was not going to give up. When Athena’s father failed in his attempt to grab and hit it, he tried to use telepathy to push it away. Athena felt her father trying to push the black smoke man away from him with his mind, and she copied him. She concentrated just as her father had taught her, and he had taught her well.
Athena thought to herself,
Gerard had told her,
‘Believe in yourself and you can achieve anything. Never let anyone tell you that you are just a girl. You can achieve anything if you believe.’
Athena’s young mind reached out towards the black smoke man, and she pushed him with all her might,
“Get away from Daddy!”
For a brief instant she saw the black smoke man’s head turn towards her, its black smokey contorted face appeared to growl at her and then it returned its attention to attacking her father, Athena stared and screamed in her mind,
“Bad man! Go away, leave my Daddy alone!”
Then she pushed again, and kept pushing. The three were now locked in a duel for Gerard’s soul. Athena’s father was making quite a noise as he crashed about, in a battle for his soul and his life. Yet tonight, there was no one close enough to the cottage to hear that noise. To Athena, it felt like they were fighting for an eternity. Athena kept pushing, yet her young mind was no match for the black smoke man, and all she could do was help delay her father’s death.
Athena heard a voice in her mind speak to her,
“Hold the book in front of you, go to your father. Tell the black smoke man to go away.”
Athena held the book out in front of her, and slowly started to walk to the door, her small arms quivering with the strain of holding the book out in front of her. As Athena reached the door and pushed it open, the black smoke man’s attention left her father who was lying on the decking beside his favourite chair that had been knocked over in the fight, and charged straight at Athena and into the warm incense laden air that was flooding straight out of the open door into the path of the oncoming black smoke man.
Athena stopped in the doorway, she was still holding the book out in front of her, she watched the black smoke man recoil from the incense ladeno warm air flooding from the open doorway and then it felt the presence of the Book. Try as it may, it was unable to reach Athena,
She heard the voice in her mind say,
“Tell the black smoke man to go away. Go to your father.”
“Bad man, go away!”
Then she used her mind and thought,
She stepped forward and started to walk towards her father, almost jumping out of her skin as the door banged shut behind her. Try as it may, the black smoke man was unable to get close to Athena, and now it could no longer get to Athena’s father and his soul. The frustrated black smoke man started to wail as it circled the cottage. Athena collapsed on the decking beside her father, he was still breathing. Athena hugged her father, then tried to drag him towards the door,
“Help me Daddy, inside Daddy, come inside.”
Her father was too heavy for Athena to drag to the door, and he was too weak to even crawl towards the door for himself. Gerard was struggling to take his last breaths, he reached out and touched the Book. He could not speak, so he thought,
“I am sorry I never believed in you like Fenella did, it is up to you and Athena to look after each other now.”
Gerard thought to Athena,
“The Book is yours now, look after it, listen to the Book and it will look after you. Remember what I have taught you, believe in yourself, and find the one called Zanta Klaus. I love you …”
Athena’s tears were flooding down her face as her father took his last breaths, her tears dripped onto her father’s book, and she used the sleeve of her clothes to wipe them from the book cover. A letter appeared on the cover, then more appeared, until they started to form words. Athena looked on in wonder, she could tell the letters, yet she did not know the words.
Athena heard a voice in her mind telling her the meaning of the words,
the voice said,
“Place your hand in the centre of the book cover.”
Athena wiped the tears from her face and placed her small hand on the book.
Then the voice said,
“Read the words out loud.”
Athena found she could understand the words, and read them aloud. When she finished,
the voice said,
“You are now The Guardian of the Book. Protect it. Pay heed to all that it tells you, learn all that it teaches you. Be patient, new parents will come for you, and you will travel a long distance to reach your new home. Remember the Prophecy. We will find Zanta Klaus together.”
Fireflies were out in the clear night, and were making their way up from the stream that ran through the garden, some settled on Athena, her father, the Book, and others swarmed around lighting up Athena and the garden. After a while the black smoke man stopped circling the cottage, others of its kind had answered it’s wailing, and now on mass they were coming for Athena. She had witnessed what it had done and had tried to stop it. She had succeeded in depriving it of a soul, it could not allow her to live.
Athena looked up when she heard the wailing of the black smoke men coming towards her, she watched as they entered the garden, Athena then saw the fireflies get brighter, and she heard the wailing of the black smoke men turn to tortured screams.
As they flew towards Athena she watched them go straight through the fireflies in their way and quickly their screams became continuous, and the fireflies swarming around became a denser packed swarm the closer to Athena the black smoke men came. Eventually, they had to stop trying to take Athena’s soul, the fireflies had become an impenetrable wall of light that they were unable to pass through.
Athena could almost taste the anger, frustration and pain of the black smoke men. They wanted her soul, they were so close they could almost taste her young soul, and Athena could feel their hunger. She stood up, and pointed a finger at one black smoke man and said,
“I remember you. You killed my Daddy. One day, I kill you.”
Athena bent down and lifted the Book up and said,
Athena waited for a few breaths then took two steps forward, and the fireflies moved forward with her, forcing the black smoke men to back away.
“Bad men, go away.”
And then she thought with her mind,
And pushed with her mind at the black smoke men. The black smokey contorted faces growled at her as they again felt the presence of the Book, Athena took another two steps and pushed with her mind, forcing the black smoke men further away from the cottage. The voice of the Book appeared in Athena’s mind and told her,
“Stay close to the cottage, and return to your father.”
Athena did as the Book told her, and later that night she fell asleep covered in a blanket of fireflies, beside the body of her father.