"He seems to breathe magic."
The child was taken deep under the earth to a kingdom few humans had seen. Although they were underground, the ceiling rose far, far above their heads. The floor was tiled black and white like a chess board.
Still beaming, the figure carried the child through many winding halls and past many gaping doorways. Through some doorways a dismal ball could be seen. One fiddle played a lonely, somber song. One pipe sung a dreary accompaniment. Uncountable figures danced the same three steps over and over as the song replayed, always leading back into itself. A single tree grew up through the middle of the dance floor, Spanish moss hanging from its otherwise bare branches. The females wore veils made of thin grey lace dotted with crystals that sparkled in the candle light like rain. Each dress had a different pattern, though all were eerily muted in color. The males wore ancient black coats, the tails of which were longer than any you’ve ever seen, splaying out majestically behind them as they danced. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether the women wore veils or simply obscured their faces with silvery hair. It was equally hard to tell whether the men wore black coats or had black coats.
Other doorways showed the same thin figures performing mysterious rites. Some looked as if they were reenacting gruesome battles, painstakingly identical down to the last death. The ones who fell in battle didn’t look as if they’d rise again. Some looked like the capture and slaughter of some ancient beast. One room looked as if nature had reclaimed it as its own. Trees grew up through the floor. Ivy clung to the walls and vines hung from the ceiling. Another looked like the top of a great tower. There was one lone figure standing atop the tower, throwing something from the walls.
Ignoring all this, the figure took the child still farther into the earth. His friend trailed close behind, calling to him in the same strange language, which I shall loosely translate into English.
“It’s not even weened! What do you expect to do with it?”
“That’s the usefulness of it! It’ll last all the longer!”
The second, darker figure made a frustrated noise. “That’s not how it works! Don’t you remember the girl child that Aelfdane found? She was too young and died within the decade!”
“Yes; that was a girl child. This is a boy child. At least, I’m reasonable sure it is.” Here he stopped and sniffed the child. “Yes, it’s a boy child. He’s sure to be stronger and last longer. Besides, he has an air about him. He seems to breathe magic.” He looked up at his friend, his eyes twinkling. “Even you cannot deny the usefulness of that.”
“Magic? A Christian child having magic? Only the vagabond Merlin had magic of any ability, and even he was not a magician of any usefulness.” His friend stopped as he did and faced him with an incredulous expression.
Rounding on his friend, the first figure shouted angrily. “I know what I’m saying!”
“Do you?!” His friend crossed his arms indignantly. “Doesn’t sound like it to me. You sound like nothing so much as a bumbling fool!”
This so enraged the first figure that he brought his arm up in one blur of movement, looking straight into the eyes of his friend. A blinding flash of light and heat consumed the narrow hallway. All sounds stopped and time stood still. Where his friend had stood only a moment ago, a pile of ashes now lay. Soon, the ashes were blown away by the wind. Time and sound resumed. The pale figure smiled once more and continued on his way.