THE BLACK LAKE’S WOMB

20 Mar

Art by Michael Pruess.

THWOK!

Flying right by my head, a flaming arrow stabs into a nearby oak. Angry shouts frighten me from behind as the small mob gives chase through night’s blackened woods. I only need to get a bit more distance between us—then they won’t be able to see me. Just a bit more distance…

THWOK!

“AGH!”

That one didn’t miss. Piercing pain shoots below my left shoulder blade, followed immediately by a burning sensation. I don’t stop for a moment. I’m more worried that they’ll be able to see me if my clothes catch fire, so I immediately reach back and wrench the arrow from my shoulder. Faster—I must run faster and escape!

“You won’t get away, Hellspawn!” a menacing voice follows. I’m not afraid of his taunt. I fear for my life, but the fear changes into confidence and gives me the power to run even faster, sprint even harder, widen the gap. I must not die here. Not now. This isn’t what I’ve kept alive all this time for!

The distance has become much greater, but I find myself at a dead end. All that waits ahead is a black lake deeper than the soul of God. There’s no time to search for an alternative route—I jump in and start off, shedding my tunic as soon as I can to relieve some weight. With all my might, I push my legs and right arm to swim, but my left arm won’t respond—the arrow wound has left it unable to. Cursing under my breath, I wish that I could sever the useless appendage, but nothing can be done.

“There he is!” someone calls from the bank. I’m sure I’ve gotten a good distance away. Some of them probably can’t swim, after all. They certainly can’t catch up to me. Even with my left arm out-of-commission, I know that one of my people could never lose to one of theirs in the water. We are a people of the aqua deity. The ocean, the sea, and the waters of land are our everything. Those who worship the earth could never reap the blessings of such a mighty lake.

I silently pray to the blackened deeps as I struggle. I pray to make it home—to cross this lake, disappear into the woods, and make it back over the mountains where they dare not travel. No matter how much pain I feel, I know that all will be well if I can just persevere…

However, my assailants don’t intend on making things easy. Rather than give chase, they stand at the bank with their bows and fire at me, hoping that their strength can overcome even the dark night. Most of the arrows barely come close to hitting me, but before too long, I finally hear a grotesque squelch and feel the sting of an arrow in my back. I howl in agony and instinctively try to grab the arrow, but it’s in a place I can’t reach, and I find myself turning onto my back.

“We got ‘im!” someone calls from the shore. They continue firing, hoping to double-up on their success. Yet another arrow hits me, this time in the chest up near my right arm. In spite of the pain, I bite down and don’t scream. I stop moving, hoping that the assailants will assume me dead. Sure enough, the volley of arrows eventually ends, and I can see the torchlight at the shore fading into the distance as the men leave me to die.

Once I’m sure they’re out of earshot, I try to lift one of my arms and grab the arrow from my chest, but neither will respond. I can’t waste too much energy trying, so I let myself float on my back and try to pedal with my legs. However, thanks to the arrow in my back, even that proves difficult and draining. My hopes of crossing the lake quickly fade. I try to lift my head to look back at the shore I’ve left, seeing if I’d have better luck turning and going back, but the torches have disappeared and I can’t see land anymore. Still, I attempt to turn my body and point back at the shore; but the effort is for naught. All of my strength is gone.

An hour passes as I remain on my back, unmoving, staring into the night. The last dregs of energy used to keep me buoyant and prevent my body from rolling over are slowly draining. My God has forsaken me and I know that I’m going to die. Visions of my home appear and then disappear before me. I can feel the water lightly tugging at my soul, hoping to drag me under, and the all-encompassing darkness seeps into my very being. Every moment, I can feel the steady sinking of my body.

In a matter of gruelingly long seconds, with the last of my will dissolved, I finally begin to turn over, unable to stop the ever-so-minute motions of the water. As my face slides beneath the surface, I feel the darkness slowly seeping into and filling my mouth and ears and then my nose and eyes. Now darkness fills me entirely.

For a while, it sits still within me, until I reflexively try to breath, and it violently shoots down my throat and into my lungs. At once, every muscle and nerve in my body tenses up and tries to throw it over, but there isn’t any strength to meet those demands. My mind becomes frantic as I gasp again and again in desperation, only inviting more of the water in. Now I’m choking, coughing, hacking, breathing breathlessly and dying. Blood comes squirting from my nose and I feel death force its way through my veins.

Nothing can describe this agonizing pain and desperate sorrow except as the feeling of having died. Nothing remains within me to be expelled, and nothing is there to fill me again except the void of being itself. Instead of being reborn, I have died in the black lake’s womb.

(This story’s title comes from the lyrics to Agalloch’s Black Lake Nidstaang, and the story was inspired by the Marrow of the Spirit album.)

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