On the inside he burns, his lungs are so starved for air they threaten to never fill again, and on the outside he shivers, chilled by the frigid water. From sunrise to sunset of the previous day – Tuesday, a day of Order – Albey spent nearly every moment cooped up inside the cabin standing in the clearing; today, he shall do just the opposite. Today, he shall achieve Balance.
Today, the Mad Poet has research to conduct, a conclusion to be tested, and if he is lucky – or unlucky, depending on the direction in which the wheel of ka spins – he has findings to be found.
But first he shall finish his bath, because his internal plumbing is working again, and he desperately needs the wash.
Back in the merry days spent living in The Lodge with Iuqon the Mage and Ram’rl the Unfallen, bathing was a luscious and luxurious experience. Iuqon, a ‘man of much mystery and even more talent, was a gifted apothecary as well as a sorcerer. He could take any gather of things from nature, components which would never be combined by the hands of any other ‘man, Albey was sure, and break them down into pure light before his comrades’ very eyes. From that light – not magelight, but something similar enough to make the comparison – any manner of things would take form, entirely dependent on Iuqon’s choosing. Sometimes the Mage made weapons, sometimes he made clothing, sometimes he made food (Iuqon did not enjoy the killing of innocents, least of all denizens of the endless wood; he preferred to tame them and recruit them as familiars, and familiar with many he was) and drink, and when the time for bathing came about, which was often, as Ram’rl was known to work up a good sweat just getting out of bed in the morning, the Mage would conjure smooth-cornered blocks which foamed into a lather when worked with wet hands. He called these blocks soap, and though their scents were often frilly – much to Ram’rl’s chagrin, for Ram’rl the Unfallen preferred to bask in what he called the ‘manstink – they left the skin pure, cleansed of all dirt and grime, and with a slight tingling sensation that Albey quite enjoyed. Today he has no soap, for Iuqon is dead and buried, the grave marked by his scorched steelwood staff, and so he is forced to wash with his hands.
How Albey misses Iuqon’s soap. How he misses his friends.
When the bite of the cold water scrapes its jagged teeth against his bones, Albey decides he’s washed well enough. He scrubbed with bare hands his arms, legs, and torso, he allowed the waterfall to beat all the sweat from his hair and beard, and he spent the rest of the time attempting to remove the ‘manstink from a certain crevice below his back, but one can only try so hard. Either he will reek of yesterday’s meal or he will not; regardless, it’s time to move on with his day.
Standing up on the shallow bridge between the twin splash pools, Albey braces himself for a chill that does not come. The water is cold enough that the everblowing wind feels warm like the exhaust from a burning fire, despite the water a’cling to every inch of his bare body. So too does some silt coat him, and so Albey splashes himself clean (well, cleaner) before stepping up onto the riverbank and shaking himself violently like a dog trying to fling the water from its fur.
Or like a wolf. Like the red-eyed wolf which crossed the river after encountering Albey at sunrise the previous day.
But it’s best not to think of such things, not intently at least. The wolf clearly meant only to threaten Albey, a hound of bark but no bite, likely more for its own sake than for the ashy ‘man’s. It had a limp to its walk, a back paw which hung agonizingly above the forest floor, but that’s not to say the red-eyed wolf wasn’t a danger. All wolves are born with a lust for the blood of ‘man, for whatever blood they can lap, really, and even with a bad leg it would have an easy enough time hunting Albey down. It would be noisy though, very easy to detect, and Albey’s heard nothing by way of breaking branches since he was roused from yesterday’s meditation. If the gray wolf means to come for him then Albey shall hear it coming, and he shall hope it catches stone just as well as the mangy raccoon.
Waiting patiently on the loamy shore of the splash pool is a large assortment of objects Albey never thought he would have when he woke up in the firepit that fateful Sunday morning, the dawn of a day of Life. There is a thick brown cloth with many threads hanging off of both sides, all the better to catch and soak up water with; beside this drying cloth is a pair of gray slacks and a shirt with long sleeves, thinner than his tunic yet warm like a sweater spun of wool; beside the underwear are Albey’s proper garments, his brown leather tunic and brown leather trousers, both of which are soaked; and beside all of these garments are two metal buckets, cast of iron they are, which Albey plans to fill from the circular river and carry back to the cabin. There is also a stack of throwing stones and a small dagger with a blade of sharpened gray stone and a hilt of carved wood, the handle engraved with the footprint of ‘man. All things he found in the cabin – aside from the stones, of course – when he discovered the lantern. The fuel of the lantern is not the bottomless black ink of his past, but even after yesterday’s long session of reading there was plenty left in its tank. Eventually it may run dry, but Albey is sure one of the many books held within that cabin holds the recipe to make more.
“Those books hold all kinds of knowledge,” Albey says as he dries himself, to bring his mind back into the present moment. “All kinds of knowledge indeed. Mayhap I shall read more after I return from my expedition later on.”
Yes, mayhap he will. Albey plans to cross the river today by the T at its southernmost curve. He does not know for sure that the river Ts due south, nor does he know that the waterfall truly marks north, but as far as the Mad Poet is concerned, they do. Saying so fulfills the purpose of the cardinal directions – to give Albey a sense of direction, that is – and even though his compass’s layout may not be entirely accurate, it’s more than enough to ensure he does not get lost while conducting today’s research. He skimmed through quite a few books during his day of Order spent indoors and learned quite a few things, some more grounded in reality than others, but all of it information nonetheless. He learned chiefly of botany, of which of the local plants are edible and which are toxic, which could be used for medicine, which ones smelled nicely when burned as incense. He also learned of the local wildlife, how to successfully go about hunting them (not that he would need to; in addition to the roots and herbs, many of the jars lining the shelves opposite the bookcase were stuffed full with dried, seasoned meats, which offered a far more delicious breakfast than those ghastly fish in the river), and where he might find them if he wished to quietly observe how they go about their daily doings. That is the reason for today’s expedition, to learn the lay of the land and see for himself what lays there. There was also–
“Best not to think on it,” as he pulls his ashy tunic over his clean underclothes. “The knowledge of that book will be treated like the limping gray wolf – if the situation presents itself, it shall be handled. Until then…”
Albey stops to listen to the forest. It says little, but what little it speaks of is peaceful enough.
“Until then, it’s best not to think on it.”
Yes, he knows, he decided as much when he slapped the strange tome shut and stuffed it back beneath the floorboards where he found it, but still… the information it contains – not knowledge, for it surely is not true, but information – is most disconcerting, most unsettling indeed. Hard not to think of, really. The coldness of the water helped to clear Albey’s mind, but now…
“Now I have things to do,” as he slings the towel over a branch so it may dry. “Daylight’s burning; waste your food, youngblood. Never your time.”
One of his mother’s sayings. He misses that woman, and the man she went with. “A shame they had to be slaughtered by highwaymen; a greater shame The Triad never came across their encampment.”
Albey takes the handle of the dagger into his mouth to prevent any further self-directed chatter, then bends his knees and grabs the buckets, his muscles straining under the weight of the stones in his pockets as he stands.
‘If you think that’s bad,’ he thinks to himself incessantly, his mind restless and unable to help itself, ‘just wait ‘til these buckets are full. Blood is thinker than water, but water’s heavier than… wine? Is that how the saying goes?’
Albey does not know. He may be a Poet but he is quite Mad, far beyond the point of rhyming and making sense of the nonsensical. He is a survivor now, a frontier ‘man, one with an expedition he shall soon endure, but before that there are preparations to be made, and so Albey sets off with the river to his right and the current flowing with him.
This has been the second subchapter of the third chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~