Forest, stream, moonlight

The Wild Hunt

By Caitlin Palmer

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Our cruelty is a mercy, the world’s mercy. Sharp like the sliver of moon that cuts the night.

 
We are what is called the fey, the Wild Hunt. Not sleeping, turning for years. Look at all of your stories, all your oldest tales. There will always be the woods. There will always be running. Some poor folk running through the dark limbs, hunted. We have ages, ages. We been laughing since the sea was a rock. We laugh and the sun is a tale. Never seen it, we riding, riding, riding at night. What things you heard of us are not near enough true.

I am a young one stolen up from his bed as a lad. I do not miss it. I do not remember it other than the others telling to me of how I came to them, a seed in the hand. What I would say of it,  may be that those little folk that walk along the ground the humankind their minds are weak and seeped through with worry, spread out on the precarious footing of how to keep the life of such a thing. All of those parts of a mind were detached from me and when some sinews are cut the others will grow. I have become behemoth, monster, magpie. I am the slippery cunning in the dark now, as my fey sisters and brothers. Our cruelty is a mercy, the world’s mercy. Sharp like the sliver of moon that cuts the night.

The world could not bear to see its useless lonely days and so we been put up here in the sky, a’riding with Woden, his greyhound the great tracker of justice that has not yet jumped down. There is no justice in the world. We are the true witness of this. Against the night’s diadem we sniff out where the blood calls to us, the fallen on the battlefield. Strip their corpses, take away the glint of innocence from their shining dead eyes so in the morning humans will not break under what they done. Seems like the women and children off the site of bloodlust back at their homes know what is taken from them, know something has been slipped by, they pull up blankets or aprons over their heads, but the men of mankind don’t notice the trick and so they keep stabbing, stabbing.

When I was a new fey I had a wonder towards remorse at this, we sprites jumped down while our silver stallions pawed at the air above our heads, they could not land. We will never land. I looked on the eyes of a poor dead lad with young pallid skin, dark hair brushed back and fingers curled toward something, like I imagined myself perhaps before I was pulled out of my bed by the trumpeting of the Wild Hunt, I wondered: would he rather to die or ride every night, into the face of eternity? And is one more appropriate to this sodden ground of earth, or are all veins of existence multitudinous arms, where both death and life are triumphant, no right or wrong to it? I cannot answer ye this, for I wiped the innocence from his eyes, a silver hue that went to my mount and my breastplate what make us all the more brilliant. Young men go to war searching out the brilliance of us that has taken to the skies.

Woden is a wisest of the fey and we say sometimes out of earshot, sometimes behind his back, that he is brother to the devil. We say away from him because ere the rumor true he would be proud of it, and ere it not he would give us a mighty blow for the nerve to rankle his tender pride.

His face so warped by centuries, millennia of the ride and night that it is like bark crackled into strips on a north-facing tree. His eyes such hollows, darker than the wells of forgetfulness that are scattered between the stars. He is perhaps brother to the devil and also to the sister of the burning places of rock under the earth.

We were riding over the land of Svalbard and below us thundered the beasts of nimble reindeer, their breath like a fury of the spirit inside fighting not to be leaked out in death. Eventually the oldest of the beasts was culled and subsides, his chest heaving and a lonesome bellow from his snout, like our own trumpets. We are called to this death. A pair of scavenging wolves fell on it, then left to us our rightful remains.

I am afeared, Woden said, his voice like the underneath of the earth in its rolling. It had been years since he’d spoken to us aloud. There are so few, he said, looking upon the cathedral of clean bones. He meant not them but its previous house, the herd of animals roaming. Their measured disappearance from the land.

Always the humankind fells their woods, chars their earth, throws their wastes upon any water. But it is like now they care no longer for innocence. They usher their own last gasping upon them.

Moons later, we ride over one of the large salt waters, its breathing surface as belying as the night sky, empty-seeming but motherland to vast life. The scent of this acidity and algae bloom rose upon us and we breathed it in, strengthened by its deep skein of dark, depthless, tidal life. And then it soured and the waves stopped breathing and there was a pungent covering over it, sticky and sappy, dead things floated in it that should not have been dead. Fishes, whales. Birds that were lured and picked the wrong place to land. It is the blood of machines, the fumes that are huffing out of all the metal carriages these humankind make now. It had overthrown the machines and was suffocating this inlet, this beach.

I write these things on what I have, the seeds of acorns, veins on a leaf. I drop them down as I ride and I suspect even those that find them may not be surprised. May know the machines have overridden them, are even now shouting, Help. We are singular, the Hunt, cut off from everything except what we see as we ride, when we land, but that humankind in their skeins of the herd, connected, may know even before we do what lake laps acrid, what field lies poisoned, fallow. And to them we say this: We have not landed in all this time. We have been your justice, swallowing for you your dead. But our greyhound sniffs, approaches. We are here because it is our place, and to sup dry the whole earth is not your place. It will be the last lesson you learn. There is a great war to be fought in which when we show up, it will not be for the after.

We are coming.

 

 

Caitlin PalmerCaitlin Palmer teaches writing at the University of Missouri. She has work published at DIAGRAM, Essay Daily, Barrelhouse, and others. She has received support from Tin House Writers Workshop and the Napa Valley Writers Conference. She is represented by Janklow & Nesbit for a novel about ecological issues in the Midwest.

Header photo by Dorothe, courtesy Pixabay.

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