This Week’s Prompt:11. Odd nocturnal ritual. Beasts dance and march to musick.
The Research: Into The Woods
Between misty hills in the north of England, far from castle and home, rode Sir Aldrich on horse with chain and sword in hand. Court had grown tiresome, as it often does to those who’s eyes extend as far as a spear, or perhaps an arrows fall at the best, and no farther in time then a heartbeat. So for adventure he rode, to seek out giant, or dragon, or damsel in a high tower. Perhaps with an elderly father who was heirless or the like. Or at least a bandit lord, whistling in the forest. Something in the wilds called to him that day.
So Aldrich rode, until the sun finished its journey across the sky. HE made camp for the night, eating salted meat on fire. That was, until a strange noise approached, a trumpeting march from the dark. Sir Aldrich stared at the sound, as marching music grew louder and louder. And lo! A bear, with a marshal’s cap emerged, trumpet to its lips and a mayor’s cape flowing behind him. Behind him, walking like a man, came a boar and wolf.
“By God, I’ve gone mad,” Sir Aldrich said.
“Are you coming today, good sir?” the boar asked, pausing as they passed.
“To the parade of our Mother of course!” the boar said, continuing on his way. The knight stared off into the distance as they marched off. And convinced he had entered some delusion, he lay to rest. And would have been save in Hypnos’ domain if it were not for a persistent drumbeat.
Da-dum-da-dum came the beating of the drum. And out they came, marching through the black, leaving behind them a golden track of pennons. Upright came a flight of hawks and vultures, beating drums as they flew overhead. A man atop an alligator lead them, waving at the shadows.
“What in God’s-”
“Do not worry sire, we will be along. The parade is today! We must, must be on our way. Come along, you must see the parade!” he said, as the army ants crawled behind him, a mass of blistering red.
“Parade? It is night, why it is Sabbath night! What parade are you holding?”
“Why our father’s parade, our fair father!” the man atop the alligator said, tipping his large conical hat.
“Well, tell your father I need my rest! Hold his parade at some goodly hour, and get you gone!” Sir Aldrich said, gesturing anon toward the hills.
“We will, good sire, we will if we see him tonight.”
And so Sir Aldrich lay down to rest. And no drums beat, no trumpets blared, no marching feet were heard. But Sir Aldrich felt hands, great hands shake him awake, and a voice whisper in his ear.
“Tell me, traveler, tell me, are you on your way?”
Starting, with sword in hand, he confronted the shriveled old man, bent with age. Tired and exhausted, the knight forgot himself.
“No, sirra, I am not on my way! Were I to have my way, the next creature to disturb my rest, especially one in search of a ‘parade’ or in any way resembling a beast, I swear by high heave, I would smite with my sword and fists!” he bellowed, towering over the man.
“I am sorry, sire, but I have lost my way. Come, can you point me to the parade?” the old man asked. “For I wish to get there in all haste. I have an appointment.”
“They went north, yonder toward the hills. By the moon, its passed midnight. What parade could require such a night?” Sir Aldrich asked, turning to the sky.
“Come round and see. Or don’t. It will be gone before you hear it,” the old man said.
Sir Aldrich assented, driven within by a desire to dash all things that had disturbed him against the rocks. And so he followed the old man, sword by his side, to the great hills were a stone monolith stood. But it stood tall and large, large as a great mountain. And emblazoned on it were many images, images of beasts that the knight had not heard of nor seen on any shield or banner. Round it circle men who barked as beasts, and beasts who’s howls bore sembalnce to the speech of men. A great cacophonous song rose up from the spot.
Sir Aldrich turned to his companion, who stared disspassionately at the shifting waves of flesh, fires flickering between flies and ferocious wolves, trumpeting bears and women beating breasts. They whirled faster and faster, sweat and the moisture of their breathe making a fog of exhaustion. The old man waited.
“What, what on earth-”
“Oh, worry not about that place. It will rise back to you shortly. Sleep well, good Sir Aldrich. For you among all of Adam’s sons, has looked upon me and remembers,” the old man said, he mouth flashing teeth that were red, and his hands like wise and sharp claws. His face bore fur, scale, and stem, and in that moment, he was not he nor she, but a splendid spilling of blood and ichor.
And Sir Aldrich awoke, in a distant castle, in court, far from any dragon or giant or wild place.
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