The Fief of Farhaven was a strange land, for there it was day always. What kept the Sun from setting? The Farhaveners didn’t know, and the Farhaveners didn’t care. The eternal day left them plenty of time for feasting, hunting haycorns, and maying.
There are dangers for those who forget the dark. But Farhaveners took comfort, because Farhaven harbored not one, but two workers of magic. “And if the darkness returns,” one Farhavener said to another, “at least one of our mages will banish it for us.”
Their best mage was Unrave the Thin. He wore a proper peaked hat. He was said to know the Nine Chants of the Mirewitch, and to summon spirits out of Hell itself when he needed them. (What did he need them for? No one asked.)
The other magician was Halen the Hearty, and it wasn’t clear whether Halen was a real magician or not. Halen studied no lore, mumbled no chants, drew no pentacles, burned no black candle, brewed no broths.
What Halen did have was friends, a company from all corners. Halen’s house was a continual carnival of card games and swilled wines, of laughter and cheerful lies.
It made Unrave wrinkle his un-Roman nose. What sort of magician applied himself never to his Art? What true mage wasted time guzzling and gaming?
Then came the stretch of a day when a Brigand out of Bargetown sold news of the coming of the Night Hags. Three harrowing harridans, they were said to be: Gorwyn, Gog, and Gobbeth. And these astringent termagants had the power to bring down Night at Noon’s height. And they were descending on Farhaven, for that land had such an abundance of light to steal.
Then the Farhaveners were glad of their two mages. But though Halen was a standup fellow, it was to Unrave they turned for instructions.
Unrave the Thin admonished his people. “Extinguish every candle, bar every door, and pray in perfect silence that the dark magic of the Hags may not enter your dwellings.” And he instructed them in certain unsettling signs and symbols, rhombuses and rhizograms, to be painted on portals as protection.
A cynical contingent, however, laughed off Unrave’s instructions. And Halen invited this scoffing scrum for merriment and celebration at the house of Halen. Cards and dice, Halen promised, wine with spice, laughter, and conversation.
Celebration? On a night when Darkness was to fall on Farhaven? Unrave had taken Halen for a fool, of course, and he was ever annoyed when the people called this dicing fake “magician”—as though he had aught in common with Unrave, a Forty-Fourth-Degree Sycophant of the Sugared Crucible! But this was a bridge too far.
“Look, friend,” Unrave said, taking Halen aside, “you and I both know you know as much about magic as does a blind broom-binder. And when those Hags come, if you want to get yourself subsumed by shadow magics, that’s your lookout. But I can’t let you imperil the lives of your comrades in merrymaking. Tonight’s no night for a carouse.”
“Tonight is a perfect night for making merry,” Halen countered cheerfully. “And you’re right, Unrave. I haven’t studied the lore that you’ve studied. I don’t know a pentacle from a tentacle, nor a pentagram from a parallelogram. But I do know a thing or two about darkness. Don’t you worry about my friends and me.”
In a coach of sable spiderskins, drawn by skeletal stallions, the Hags screeched into Farhaven. And the constant Sun of Farhaven blanched, and jumped from its track at sky’s height, and ducked behind the peak of Mt. Harbinge.
And the light faded from Farhaven. And the one called Gorwyn gurgled, and said:
“Let the day be darkness; let the stars hide under shrouds. Let the light be the gloam of the Madness Moon. Let there be fear in Farhaven, and let there be shadows.”
And Gog said:
“Let the dayflowers close and hide, and the nightblooms unfurl. Let waft the scents of Goats-beard and Blear Lily and Rough Hawkbit; unwind tendrils of Ox-Tongue and Bindweed and Sow Thistle. Call forth Cat’s Ear and Tree Spurrey, Primrose and Tuberose, Iris and Moonflower.”
And Gobbeth opened her jawbones rattling with rotten teeth and rasped:
“Let the cheerful birds of day hide heads under wings, and let the deadly fowls of darkness soar like shadows through impenetrable air. Come Screech Owl and Nightjar, come Frogmouth and Pootoo and Chuck-will’s-widow, come Swift and Shrike and Moonsparrow, come Croft-hawk and Kakapo.
“Let the creatures of the day curl in burrows and trunks, and let creep the vermin of still midnight. Come Stoat and Skink, come Wolverine and Fisher, come Quoll and Bandicoot, come Binturong, come wide-eyed Aye-aye, come Hellcat and Lynx and Bilby.”
And the three witches joined claws and shrieked:
“Let the dark robed chanters come. Let them dance the Twirl of Skulls. Let blood flow upon the Wheel of Stones. Let them beat upon a man-skin drum.”
And out of the hills, from the slums and hovels above Bargetown, marched the Cultists of the Dark. Those who by day were loveless and friendless, those who wove dark dreams behind their eyes, those who saw death inside life, and skull beneath skin, these pale mooncalves now felt for the first time the power to strike fear and to kill. And they raised their chants to the pallid moon and frozen stars. And they went house to house through Farhaven, dragging the less fortunate from where they cowered in their blacked-out cellars.
In his nave of sturdy stone, Unrave the Thin burned his black Candle and consulted the Nine Tomes of Awful Arts. He readied stave and staff, cowl and censer. He cast forth a black incantation of such power that the trees around his house bent away. But the darkness lightened not a shade.
Unsettled, Unrave drew a Rune last drawn when Lucifer tumbled among the damned. The Rune uncoiled and slithered and glowed. Then it sputtered and left nothing but a poisonous scribble on the splintered floor.
From his pentangle drawn in traitor’s blood, Unrave summoned the most potent panjandrums of Pandaemonium. None would come to his call.
His expertise expended, Unrave began to squeak and gibber and see shapes in shadows. And the darkness reached fingers into Unrave’s imagination, till the mind that had faced down demons went mad from fear.
Across the bat-black town, one house glowed insouciantly like a shop at Christmas. Within, Halen’s band uncorked their host’s oldest wines, rolled bones on baize, raised shouts, warbled wassails, chanted songs of love and loss and friendship.
“Say, Magician,” called a carouser, “the darkness grows pretty thick out there. Aren’t you going to pour some kind of potion to make it bugger off?”
“Certainly!” laughed Halen. He poured sweet wine into a bowl and sprinkled spices on top. “Now you’d all best sample my potion to keep the dark’s distance!”
When the bowl was passed, another guest cried, “I hear the chants of the Cultists, my good fool Halen. Aren’t you going to do a magic pass to banish their moony faces from your window?”
“Right away,” Halen said. He stood at the end of the dicing table, and a chill came over his face. The guests hushed. Was their host finally going to live up to his title?
Halen held both hands closed above his head. He made a pass to the left, and a pass in front of his face. Eyes shut, he swung his fists in three circles. Then suddenly he shot his fists in front of him.
Two bony cubes danced down the table and bounced off the far bumper. One flashed a four and one a three.
“Seven! My spell wins me a fat pot!” Halen roared, reaching for stacked coins, and his friends roared too. And they forgot the darkness swirling outside and were momentarily mindless of the danger.
“I say, Halen,” a tippler quavered, “I believe the Three Hags themselves are clawing at your door!” And sure enough, the guests could hear the stout ash of Halen’s door grinding and giving way.
“Did you paint a pentangle on your door for protection?” another guest inquired nervously. “Did you utter an Incantation?”
“An Incantation! Just the thing! Now, boys and girls,” Halen said solemnly, “I want you all to join me in a chorus of that fine old lay The Old Brown Barrel’s Bung.”
Silence from the guests, and in the silence, the door’s torment was only too audible.
“Halen, this has all been jolly,” the tippler squeaked, “but the time for a song seems past. Surely it’s time we did something to protect ourselves!”
“My friend,” Halen admonished, “if you do exactly as I say, I promise you on my honor as a mage, those hags will never break that door.”
“When all the world was fresh and green
And all we fools were young
We stopped a keg of Branduin wine
Hesitantly, some of the guests picked up the refrain.
“With the Old Brown Barrel’s Bung”
Halen paused not a beat, but kept on, and this time more voices joined him.
“We gave our wine to blind old Time
To him our pledge was sung
While youth was ours, we’d never touch
The Old Brown Barrel’s Bung.”
Nine more verses were sung by host and guests, voices swelling and growing warmer with each verse. The song told of life lived, and age accruing, of friendship, love, sorrow, and joy, with one or two obscene puns tossed in. And as the final verse approached, some noticed out of the sides of their eyes that their host was sidling towards the door. The voices reached their loudest pitch with the last stanza:
“Now age has bent us like the briar
Our road is nearly run
We’ll hold our trembling cups of cheer
’Neath the Old Brown Barrel’s…
As the guests sang the final word, Halen reached for the door that was already splintering. He raised the latch and he threw it open.
There on the doorstep cowered the three Night Hags. And the warm cheerful light from Halen’s house spilled out onto the stoop, and lit up the witches’ every scar and wen. And their huge white eyes burned, and they threw gnarled hands abaft their faces.
“Now Hags,” said Halen, “you’ll see that my door is open. It needs no runes, no wards, no pentagrams, or puzzles to keep you out. You see that we don’t cower within these walls. Not one of us stays silent when darkness threatens. In here there is comradeship, there is merriment, there is love born of long companionship. Your fear and your shadows have no power here.”
The one called Gorwyn croaked, “There are no spells you can speak that would banish us.”
“Indeed,” said Halen. “And so I don’t banish you.” He gestured at the room of frankly astonished guests. “You are welcome here. Come in and drain a cup with us.”
The Hags reacted as though smitten with a spell they had never heard in all their immortal lives. They crouched and batted at the light. Their thin appendages writhed and tangled, and within a moment, the Hags transmuted to a form like pale subterranean spiders. The hideous things hissed and clacked, and skithered down the steps, and vanished into the darkness.
“More wine, to greet the Sun?” Halen said to his company as the first rays stole across the land.
* * *
“Where did you learn such powerful magics?” the people asked Halen the Hearty after the light returned, and splintered doors were patched, and those driven mad had been cured with hot tea and baths. Halen didn’t say much, just grinned, but when a sheepish Unrave was in earshot, Halen was heard to say “from humans, not from demons.”
The Farhaveners still turned to Unrave for help with floods and fires and quakes and blights, but they retained Halen the Hearty in case a real crisis were to fall; also because he made a superior mulled wine and his door was always open.
Matthew F. Amati was born in Chicago, and soon embarked on a checkered career that included stints as farmhand, Mandarin interpreter, assistant on The Jerry Springer Show, and junior professor of Classics at Howard University. His fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Darkfuse, and elsewhere. A diffidently updated writer blog can be found at www.mattamati.com.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Let The Day Be Darkness”:
We don’t publish a lot of fantasy pieces. Many of the ones we do publish have a humorous bent, step outside the box, and are fun to read. Maybe they have a twist to them as well.
Author Matthew Amati has delivered on all four of these aspects and given us a well-written, delightful read. There’s nothing deep here. Or maybe we do find a message in it?