25 Jul The Naera
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"The Naera"Written by
Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
‘Tis a fine house, lad, to be sure, and well built. And ’tis sure I am that you and young Maglyn will be more than happy here till the end of your days. But I’ve said it afore and I’ll say it again—I wish I knew what possessed you to build so close to the cairn of Draugs Teigh and so far from me and your ma.
Now, calm yourself, lad! Calm yourself! I meant no harm! But you are my son and I am your father. You can’t blame your old da for worrying now, can ye? You know as well as I the stories about those old stones and the darkness that lives there. And with that evil place being home to no less a nightmare than the Naera himself, well…
What’s that you say? You, twenty years of age last winter, and I never told you the tale of the Naera? Well, I suppose there’s no surprise there. Sure, ’tis a dark tale of twisted magic and betrayal—and one I am loath to tell. Wise folk make a point of avoiding it for fear of attracting his attention. ‘Tis said even the saying of his name will bring the fiend who stalks that hill to knocking.
You want to hear it, do ye? Well, I suppose ’tis best to be forewarned or so ’tis said. Go on, then, and bring your da some fresh ale afore I get to the telling. There’s a good lad.
Now, let’s see… ‘Twas some time back when Faeral committed the deed that cursed that place—almost three hundred year ago now, or so the story goes. Took the lives of many of the townsfolk, he did. Aye, Faeral was a wicked man to be sure—a summoner of the dead. No one knew from whence he came, really. Come here from some land far away where such things are more commonplace, I suppose. The folk here in the valley never took too well to his dark ways. Feared him, they did. All over the countryside, they avoided him as if he were the grim specter of Dathruk himself. ‘Course there were no denying that he resembled one of the death god’s harbingers with his thin, hawkish face and boney limbs.
Indeed, it weren’t far from here that he practiced his terrible arts—built a great tower of stone deep in the forest not more than three leagues from this very spot. Oh, a monstrous place it was, with great stone faces glowering down at passers-by from a parapet that ringed the uppermost floor, their eyes aglow with unhallowed light that froze your blood right in your veins. ‘Tis said they were watchers of some sort, guardians who alerted their master of any foolish enough to get too close. That tower has long since crumbled to ruin, no longer held together by the arcane forces that built it, but folks say they can still hear the ghosts of Faeral’s victims a-crying and a-wailing through the hills.
Now, the first one to come upon that eyesore were the miller. Out looking for one of his mules run off from the mill, he was. ‘Course chasing green fairies was probably more like it, if you take my meaning. He was known to be a bit too fond of the drink. Still there he was, tramping through the brush, brambles tearing his britches and ripping at his legs as he stumbled into the clearing. Run straight into the tower, he did!
‘Twas then that a strange cry above him caught his ear, a sound unlike any bird he’d ever heard. Glancing upward, his eyes caught a line of foreign symbols etched into the stone before his gaze settled on one of those ghastly faces. Sure as I live and breathe, there it was scowling down at him, its eyes shimmering with malice. Afore the full realization of what he was seeing could set in, the thing let loose another cry like a cat being murdered. Scared the living daylight out of the miller! What could he do but shite himself and run?
Straight to the tavern he went, legs aquiver and naught but gibberish pouring from his pallid gob. Took a full four pints afore they could calm him down enough to understand what he were saying…and even then not a soul believed him. They laughed at his crazy story, figured he’d had a bit too much of that barley brew he was so fond of… But they didn’t scoff for long. The necromancer would soon make his way to the village.
In the beginning, Faeral kept to himself mostly. A homely, disagreeable man he was and rarely seen—which was all right by the townsfolk. Once in a great while, he came to town and spent a bit of coin at one of the merchants but the rest of the time, he remained locked away in his tower. What he did up there was anybody’s guess, though everyone had a good idea. You see, shortly after his arrival, folks started noticing great gaping holes in the cemetery—graves with nothing left in them but a broken pine box!
One evening as the sun slipped into its bed, the temple priest set out to perform his nightly duty to Dathruk—the pouring of libations on his shrine and asking the Lord of the Grave to look after the souls in his care. As he walked down the path to the shrine at the cemetery’s center, he noticed something strange in the distance. From where he stood, it looked as though someone had piled a heap of broken wood and earth near one of the graves. As he got closer, though, he could see that was not the case at all. The grave was fully opened, the dirt thrown roundabout as though the perpetrator were in a great hurry! The wood he’d seen were really the broken planks of the coffin laying littered about the place.
The body, buried only days before, was nowhere to be found. Puzzled, the priest stared in disbelief, not knowing what to think. He’d performed the service that laid the poor bugger to rest himself! As he stood there scratching his head, he noticed another pile several graves over, and then another further on still. Shaken, he began slowly to turn about, looking around in all directions and seeing more and more of the telltale mounds—a full score, at least!
Well, everyone knew who were responsible, didn’t they? Faeral the Necromancer! How he’d managed to steal so many bodies in but one night no one could figure. And ‘course that weren’t the most exasperating part of the whole ordeal. The people were outraged that he’d desecrated the remains of their kin but none had the courage to stop him. Not a one wanted to end up on his butcher’s block, that’s for certain. So they let him be, grudgingly allowing him to carry on whatever gruesome endeavors he got up to. At least he were only taking the dead, they reasoned, and not the living. If only they’d known what horror was to come, they’d have burnt him up in his tower as soon as the first sign of grave robbing occurred. But as things were, he hadn’t harmed a living soul and so they left him to himself.
Things went on this way for some time until the day that Faeral met young Maeve. Hair the color of summer wheat, eyes like emeralds, and skin the color of fresh milk. Oh, a beautiful lass, she was, but wild! Nary a drop of modesty nor honor in her at all!
Maeve came from good, solid stock, she did. Her parents were honest, hardworking folk. Her da was the town blacksmith and her ma…her ma was a master weaver. I tell ye, lad, you never saw such things as came from that woman’s loom! Her skill, a gift straight from the goddess of the arts herself, was widely celebrated. Many a prince and noble house commissioned her services to weave wonders for their estates. Aye, and they paid her well for it, too. Magical things, she made—the characters in her tapestries were so real they moved of their own accord, playing out their scenes over and over to the delight of all who laid eyes on them. She tried to pass her knowledge on to Maeve but the girl had no interest in the art of weaving. Her interest lay solely in the art of seduction. ‘Tis true she spent her days doing chores for her ma as any dutiful daughter does but her nights… oh, her nights were another matter altogether.
To the shame of her parents, Maeve prowled the tavern at night, taking a new lover as often as a man takes a breath. Discretion was never her concern. Husband or bachelor, it mattered not to Maeve. She flitted from man to man as a hummingbird darts from flower to flower, taking a sip of each but landing on none, if you take my meaning. She left many a suitor in shambles, promising eternal love to one even as she slipped into the bed of another.
Her folks tried to reel her in, to tame the wild streak in her, but she’d have none of it. And when she caught sight of Faeral in the shops, saw how the townspeople recoiled from him… well, there was no stopping her. They tried to convince her, to warn her of what often comes of those who share the bed of evil but she wouldn’t listen. They reminded her how ugly he was, how much like a gargoyle he looked, but nothing mattered to Maeve. True, a handsome man Faeral was not—he was too thin of body and his face was pinched—but Maeve didn’t want him for his looks. ‘Twas his sinister reputation that enticed her.
Maeve cared not a whit that everyone despised the foul necromancer or that he’d defiled the graves of her friends and ancestors. She reveled in the scandal it caused and her beauty wove a spell of lust over the lanky mage. Oh, he resisted at first, turned his nose up and snorted derisively at her brazen attempts to seduce him but she soon wore him down. No matter how warped his nature was, Faeral was a man still! With each passing meeting, Maeve’s charm snaked its way into his blackened heart and sank its fangs in deep. Aye, caught in her web, he was—enthralled and in love.
What’s that? Did he not know of her reputation? I suppose he did—gossip traveled just as fast and as far in those days as it does now and she made no bones about what she got up to in the wee hours. Maybe it were his own arrogance made him believe she’d not cross him as she had the others, but who can guess? A body in love can convince themselves of any number of fictions and Faeral was a man obsessed. What I do know is that as his love for her grew stronger, his desire for her grew in a most twisted way.
He lavished her with expensive gifts, some clearly from the corpses he stole and others from lands unknown. She accepted all with squeal of glee, smothering him with kisses and other favors. But no matter what promises she made him, no matter what gifts he brought, her dalliances continued. Day by day, he became more covetous, more jealous of her not-so-secret trysts until one night he caught her in the arms of yet another man.
‘Twas the night of a dark moon. The sun had set with a bloody hue. The townsfolk, taking it as an ill omen, had locked themselves in their homes and barred their shutters. Only two people took no heed. Maeve and her newest plaything, a traveling peddler, lay tucked away in a tavern room, delighting in each other’s caresses. Outside in the darkness stood an indignant Faeral, his eyes locked on an open second-story window from which slithered the soft sounds of lovemaking. As he listened, every oath of fidelity she’d taken, every time she’d sworn that she’d never again take another lover but him came flooding to the fore of his mind. Each moan of betrayal from above drove a nail through his withered heart.
His very soul aching, he whispered a few strange words and the tavern doors swung open before him without making a sound. Silently, he slipped inside and made his way to the room where his inconstant love and her latest conquest lay spent and covered in sweat. With a wave of his hand, the door splintered and burst afore an enraged Faeral stepped across the threshold.
The room was lit by a single lamp—its small flame guttering in the breeze from the open window. Without a word, Faeral crossed the floor and gutted Maeve’s stunned lover like a trout before he was even free of the coverlet. Turning on Maeve, Faeral demanded that she be loyal to himself alone from that night forward on pain of death. Yet, as he stood there recounting to her the many oaths she’d sworn to him, the steam of the peddler’s newly liberated entrails rising at his feet, what do you think the stupid girl did? Why, she laughed at him! And a cold, callous sound it was. The gods never made a woman of colder stuff than Maeve! Why, said she as she clutched the bed sheets to her chest, would he think that she could love a wretch such as him? Did he think he was the first she’d made such promises to? He was naught more than a passing fancy, a frivolity that brought her pretty baubles. As she mocked him, his anger built with each scathing word. Finally, her venom spent, she glared at him haughty as a queen, contempt written on her face.
Faeral stared at Maeve in agonized silence, an inferno of pain and treachery raging in his belly. “You and I shall be one, Maeve, one way or another,” he vowed, a malicious grin spreading across his face as he took his leave amidst her ringing laughter.
For several weeks after, no one saw nor heard from Faeral. He did not come to visit the merchants; he did not come to see Maeve. A few of the braver sort tried to organize a search for him in his tower, intent on hanging him for the murder of the peddler, but fear of the necromancer’s power quelled their fervor. The townsfolk hoped he had died of a broken heart or had gone back in disgrace to the place of his birth. Most were just relieved that he was gone. For her part, Maeve thought that it would be only a matter of time afore he returned as all the others had, bearing gifts and begging her forgiveness. By the gods, how wrong she was. How wrong they all were.
You see, ’tis not a love of death that consumes a necromancer but a love of life! He lusts for mastery over death to prolong his own existence! ‘Twas this search for immortality that kept Faeral going and he had come very close to this aim through his grisly work. For years, he had worked toward his goal of unending life and god-like powers… but a gift demands a gift. To obtain the boons he sought, Faeral willingly had to give of the one thing he held most dear. All his life, the only thing that held that place in his heart was his necromantic endeavors but that had changed when he met Maeve. Until that fateful night in the tavern, the love burning in his breast had kept him from sacrificing her to his thirst for eternal life but now…now that she had rejected him, and in so humiliating a manner, what reason had he to stay his hand? He would complete his great work, he reasoned, and keep Maeve with him forever through this final act.
‘Twas in short order that the townsfolk found their hopes of Faeral’s departure dashed. Rumors of missing travelers began trickling in from around the countryside. Tales were whispered through trembling lips of a demonic figure ambushing groups of grown men in the dark and dragging them screaming into the shadows. Hunters would return from the wild shaken and pale, terrified by horrific cries heard echoing through the wood in every direction. Folks walking home from the tavern at night vanished. Everyone knew it to be the handiwork of Faeral but not one of them was brave enough to hunt him down.
Finally, it happened one morning that young Maeve did not return home. As I said, ’twas no secret that she often shared a late night with whatever man had caught her fancy. But when the sun had reached its mid-point in the sky and there had been no sign of Maeve still, her mother began to worry. From home to home, from tavern to shop she went, searching in vain for her daughter.
Immediately, the townsfolk’s thoughts ran to the necromancer Faeral and the tale Maeve had told of their last encounter. The final straw had broken. Fear gave way to fury. Grabbing whatever they could to arm themselves, the men of the village marched to the tower, intent on bringing the girl home if indeed she was captive there. Long and hard, they searched but found nothing. By all appearances, it seemed as though Faeral’s tower had been abandoned for some time so they fanned out, searching the surrounding hills.
And that, my boy, is where they found them; there, where the cairn now stands. Through dark magic, the power-mad wizard had set up a circle of stones. In the center stood a great stone altar, black and slick with the blood of his many victims. The stench of decaying flesh rose from piles of half-eaten corpses—some still recognizable as the missing men from the village. Upon the altar, Faeral crouched over the lifeless body of Maeve, her throat torn. The gathered men were stunned at his transformation. His skin was taut and pale, his eyes sunken into his skull—so much so that his face resembled a death’s head! In his hands hung bloody strips of flesh, wrenched from Maeve’s body with his own clawed fingers. Turning to the sickened crowd, he grimaced and then, as if in defiance, he gobbled it down in a frenzy before tearing even more meat from her corpse.
It took several moments for the shock of this horrific scene to wear off the menfolk, but wear off it did. Clubs and plowshares held high, they rushed at the lunatic. The fear they had felt for so long came spilling forth in a wave of primal fury. Like men possessed, they attacked him. Oh, he fought back all right, and with an unnatural strength at that, but I don’t think any force in the Heavens or the Hells could’ve saved him from the wrath of those men. It weren’t long afore he was overcome.
When their rage finally abated, they looked down on the vanquished body of Faeral, bashed and broken on that vile altar. Figuring him not deserving of proper burial rites, they interred him with the very stones of his accursed circle. Pulled them down, they did. They got ropes and horses and leveled the place right on top of him!
He’s up there still… but the old villain doesn’t rest in peace, oh no! How could the townsfolk have known that that their actions served to consummate a pact made between the necromancer and the dark god Faruk? By killing him, they brought about the beginning of a terrible curse. Faruk the Corrupt, son of the death god Dathruk and the goddess Isenea, he who sowed the first seeds of corruption into the world, gave Faeral forbidden knowledge, promising him eternal life in return for his devotion and sacrifice. The murder of Maeve, Faeral’s only-ever love, sealed this pact and remanded her broken soul to unending slavery in Faruk’s realm. As for the necromancer, the foul god kept his promise and gave him eternal life through undeath. But Faeral did not rise as the lich he had hoped to become. Instead, he was transformed into a ravening ghoul—the Naera, or Night Caller, as they’ve come to name him—driven by an insatiable appetite for living flesh. To this very day, when hunger or some other force calls him forth from his tomb, he pulls himself free of the rocks and roams the countryside peeking through windows and knocking on doors trying to flush out a bit of fresh meat.
Now, my boy, pay special heed to what I’m about to tell ye. I’ve spoken his name enough times in the telling of this story so as to wake the creature ten times over. That in mind, you listen to your ol’ da and you listen well. If you wake from sleep to the sound of rapping at the door, let it be. He always comes a-calling in the darkest hours of night. The wind may blow, the snow may fall, and still he’ll come a-banging on the doors and a-tapping on the shutters. But don’t you make a sound—not a peep! And he hears but a pin drop, you and all your house will be lost! Family and friends who call on ye next morning will find naught but gnawed bone and blood. He leaves no flesh behind, the hellish glutton. ‘Course, that’s not all…
Oh, he’s a sly one, that old ghoul, and he’s got a bag of tricks as can help him gratify his bedeviling hunger. He can mimic the very voices of the gods themselves, or so they say. Many a man has lost his life and loved ones to Faeral’s trickery, thinking ’twas his own children crying for help outside in the darkness. No matter what you hear, even if ’tis my own voice calling ye out from your bed pleading with ye to save me life, you just lay yourself back down and cover your ears.
Are you feeling all right, lad? It’s that you’re looking a bit pale is all. Oh, now don’t you go fretting about old Faeral. You just remember what I’ve said and you’ll be fine. As for me, I’d best be getting on. Your ma will be looking for me and I’ll not keep her waiting much longer. Besides, night will be falling shortly and I don’t like the look of that fog settling up on the cairn.
Credit To: Tara Grímravn