The Fays
In those days, it was not exactly wise to sleep out on the mountain with so many wolves and bears about, beasts who hadn't heard Prince Cuza's decrees that thenceforth the village was to belong to humankind. Back then the beasts of the forest did not hesitate to attack whole bands of men, let alone a sleeping man. But Constantine Berca fell asleep on the spot, without having had time to find any shelter, without thinking any more about the well or his farm, and he slept such a sleep that the dam of dreams opened and received him inside as though into a citadel, surrounding him as though in a mist with walls and towers and red shadows, like those of a latter-day Jerusalem, which will reveal itself at the end of the ages, or so it is written. The entrance to the citadel was guarded by a pair of cherubim armed with broadswords and old bandit pistols, of the kind that can crack open the padlock of heaven with a single, well-aimed bullet, girded in chain mail, their faces chiseled from stone, but living and breathing, gazing from six pairs of eyes that could encompass all the heavens and Earth. Seven maidens who had been sitting around a well in one of the citadel's gardens approached the newcomer, who was rooted to the spot. He understood the danger and wanted to flee, for cursed are those around Whom gather the fays, but his legs had turned to lead, and those maidens were laughing and signaling him that only by their leave could he be released from the spell. They told him they were the emperor's daughters, and their father ruled in that castle, and Berca saw their light gait, a palm's width above the ground, and understood he was lost, for their dance had closed in around him, and it was the spirals of that ring dance that produced the spell. They caressed his brow and told him not to fear, they enticed him with perfumed fruits that do not exist on Earth, they played with his hat, tossing it back and forth between them. During this time, his hands had grown cold and no longer felt to touch, and his lips had grown hard and no longer felt to taste, and he felt his heart stopping in his breast --- it was as if he had died.

"Don't you know where you are?" one of them asked. "Have you never before descended into Earth's most secret realm?"

One of them showed him the paths that branched out from there: one led to Transylvania and was narrow, like a footbridge on the lip of a chasm, a gaping depth; one led to Anatolia, the footprints of men, horses, and camels visible in the clay; and a third led to distant Egypt and was grassed over, as though no one had passed that way for a long time. All these paths were roofed by a black Vault, from which streamed dark grasses, and they intersected with a white path, like a nacreous smoke, about which she said:

"The Milky Way is mirrored here. Not even we know why it looks like this."

Constantine Berca remembered some old tales about treasures buried by the hosts who had fought here with the chain-mailed armies of the right-believing Byzantine Empire. He glanced around that cave as large as a vale between two hills, looking, too, at those maidens who had gathered around him, and he understood that what he was seeing had no connection with the tales he had heard before, that this was something entirely new, something that was really happening to him. It was not a dream. It was real, for he had fallen asleep on the portal that led to this place.

One of the emperor's daughters, the one with the gift of reading thoughts, answered him:

"This is the Land of the Endless Underworld, where you will one day be called as a living man to see secrets not yet seen and to choose the path not yet chosen. That path will not be traveled by you but by the blood of your blood, in another time."

Then they began to tell him, first in a whisper, then they started to sing, then they started to dance, about the men chosen by fate to descend in dream or in madness into the distant reaches of this hidden Land, concealed in the fecund belly of Earth, where seeds sleep through winter, where apple trees gather their fruit before blossoming, and from where you can reach anywhere on Earth or in heaven by following the roots of a huge oak that draws its sap here, an oak tree from whose leaves one dream patters to another, images of faraway places, the deeps, the future, the past, images of animals not of the earth, of unseen teinpests, being stored until the day of the Last Judgment. The fays lifted him up by the arms, as if he, the giant of Evil Vale, were light as a snowflake, and they bore him toward the palace of crystal and porphyry where they had been born centuries ago. One of these creatures whispered to him that the final ruler of the world would be born in this palace, the ruler preceding the judgment of the nations, the king of the end times. The rooms of the palace, which he saw as though through a mist, dizzied by toxins and the spell, seemed to shelter the treasures of all the pirates of days gone by, for the coffers were draped with cloths of gold thread, the mirrors were plated with silver, and sitting snugly on high shelves were the four massy gold crowns of the extinct kingdoms of ages past. The room had a fresh scent of incense and basil, as though a church. Either the spell had weakened or this was merely how it had seemed to him, but he was able to move his arms, and the fays allowed him to stroke the loom of princes still unborn, whose thread, they told, held the spells of birth and fertility. If someone were to unravel the threads, all the births in the world would happen at once, simultaneously, and the end of times would be nigh. Found there were the swords of unborn knights, as well as the trumpets that would herald the end of the world, shut in glass cases with rosewood locks, so that the wind could not pass through them and no trace of their song would rise to the surface. The seven approached him in turn and told Constantine Berca about the purpose of each of those enchanted things and where each would unfold in the world. In the end, as he was beginning to feel his fingers once more, like the tingling caused by passing them through icy water, he felt pity for those in the future and fear for the fate of those alive now. He had seen war at Rahova, and that was enough for him to understand that all the things in the cave were real and they would one day sprout on Earth's surface. He knew that everything the fays told would really come to pass. They read his thoughts and laughed at him, just as you laugh at the ignorance of a child, and they told him they would lead him back to the surface and leave him to sleep at the spot whence they had taken him.

--- From Miruna, A Tale
Bogdan Suceavă,
Alistair Ian Blyth, Translator
©2014, Twisted Spoon Press
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