13th of December: Ken Brown
His dad was in the US Air Force for most of Ken Brown's early life, so they moved a lot. In the US he’s lived in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Turkey, Idaho, and Virginia, with a few years in West Virginia when he tried being a civilian. His folks didn’t have a lot of money to spare, but once he started reading, they were always able to find the money to keep him in books.

Libraries helped.

Their time in Turkey was transformative for him. It got him thinking of non-American history and ways of doing things that he never had before. That was also where he learned that both bread and rice could have a taste and texture of their own. One of his strongest memories of the place is walking home with a loaf of Turkish bread warming his fingers through the newspaper the baker had wrapped it in.

Turkey was also where he learned that horses, even small ones, have very large bladders.

He's had the writer’s motley assortment of jobs, the most interesting ones being an electrician on nuclear submarines being overhauled at Newport News Shipyard and running the night shift in Booz Allen Hamilton’s print shop.

The Glacier

by Ken Brown

Two days ago, the bishop and his priests had forced the local villagers up the snowy valley to the face of the glacier. They had prayed, chanted, led the sullen villagers in song and demanded that the ice turn back. Instead, the falling snow had changed to tiny bits of ice, sharp and cutting, tinkling like an infinity of tiny bells as they landed.

They had retreated some ways.

This day they and most of Baron Anhalt’s men had left at dawn, headed down the wide valley. Back to civilization. Anhalt watched them depart, wished he was going with them. His stomach rumbled with something other than hunger.

Anhalt and his party started back up the ice valley, following the broad trampled-down path the villagers had made.

One of the local men was in the lead, warning of treacherous footing, and occasionally smashing a chunk of ice with a small pick ax.

Anhalt followed him, his bright furs making him conspicuous. Behind Anhalt stumbled the black-robed old man from Rome; cadaverous, weedy-voiced, with a gaze that no man could meet. Then a youth from the village, tall and thin. Petrus, he was called.

Two of Anhalt’s soldiers followed the youth. Each soldier had a crossbow slung across his back.

They said nothing. It was too cold, and each man was facing his own thoughts and fears. They climbed in silence, except for the cracking of the ice, the crunch of snow underfoot, the raspy wheezing of their breath, and the tinkling of the ice crystals as they fell.

There was no wind.

The ice crystals stopped falling as well. It seemed that the mountains were holding their breath as they watched them.

They reached the glacier much sooner than Anhalt expected. He looked at the snow around the ragged face of the glacier. The wide semicircle that had been stamped out by the anxious and sullen villagers as the bishop and his priests had performed was gone.

Anhalt swallowed as he realized that the glacier had already advanced to cover that clearing. If it continued advancing at the same rate, the village would be buried in ice in a week or two. And then? Anhalt began to understand, really understand, the fear and the consternation caused by this thing.

He stared at it, without the distraction of a horde of sullen villagers. It stared back. Impassive. Silent.

The black-robed man was standing, hunched over, next to Anhalt. He was wheezing and gurgling like a man with an arrow through his lung. After a very long few minutes his breath quieted, and he straightened. “I am too old for this,” barely a whisper. Then in a stronger voice, “You,” he pointed at the guide who had been watching him, “come here.” He turned to look behind, “You too, boy.”

The guide walked back, glancing over his shoulder. “It’s silent,” he muttered. He looked at Anhalt, “A glacier is like an angry woman. A lot of noise. If it ever goes silent…”

Anhalt stumbled sideways a few steps, as far as he thought he could go without the man in black recalling him.

The old man had a sort of satchel slung across his body, of oiled leather, dyed black. He fumbled with it, and the boy, Petrus, steadied it for him. The old man opened the satchel and, fat-fingered in his gloves, pulled out a large book. It was bound in pitted grey leather. Anhalt realized that the leather cover of the book had once been as black and as glossy as the satchel the old man had carried it in.

The old man nearly dropped the book, and the youth let go of the satchel and caught the book. The two of them stood together, holding the ancient book, staring at each other. Reaching some sort of understanding. The old man looked down at the book and Petrus started to look about, as if for the first time.

Petrus was dressed the most thinly of all of them. He was an orphan, grudgingly taken in by his aunt and his uncle. Despite his thinner clothes, the boy gave no sign of being cold. He was the only one of them that showed no sign of fear. His blue eyes darted about, but always returned to the face of the glacier.

Anhalt had been uneasy all day, truth be told, had been uneasy since first entering the village. He was court and city bred and raised, and he neither liked nor trusted country folk. They felt the same way about him.

There was something about Petrus that made Anhalt’s skin itch to go crawling, and seeing him stand next to the cadaverous old man in black robes holding an ancient book between them standing in the snow…

Anhalt caught himself, pulled his hand off of his sword’s hilt. Curled his hands into fists.

The old man wheezed something, and the guide reluctantly stepped closer. The old man opened the book to the center and handed it to the guide.

The man in black flicked through a few pages and then nodded. He looked at the guide, “Do not move. Do not drop this.” His fist slashed out, and Petrus grunted and rubbed his shoulder. “Pay attention, now.”

And then they stood, waiting, while the old man stared into the sky, as dark and as grey as the field stones the villagers used to make their houses.

At some point, the old man saw what he was waiting for. His head came down, and he started to read.

It was not Latin, Anhalt had heard enough of that to recognize it. Nor was it German, or French. He was pretty certain that it was not Greek, either. He began to wonder if it was any human language, and then to doubt that it was.

The old man paused to turn the page, and Petrus smiled as he said, “That sounds like the ice song.”

The old man glanced at Petrus, bobbed his head briefly, and began to read again.

In time he stopped.

One of Anhalt’s soldiers gasped. Anhalt glanced at him, saw he was looking at the glacier’s face, and turned to study it.

It seemed to be glowing with a faint blue light, coming from inside, not a reflection. There was a crackling sound and a fissure appeared. Pale blue light spilled out from the opening.

Two slender men, no not men, each tall enough to stand next to a man on horseback and look him in the eye, stepped out onto the snow. Each held a long icy spear.

A woman, as tall as the first two, stepped out and stood between them. The ice queen, Anhalt had no doubt that she was a queen, was dressed in a long flowing gown woven from snowflakes. She studied all of them with unblinking blue eyes. After a moment, she held out a hand, and Petrus walked to her. She took his hand, led him back into the glacier, and the two guards followed them.

There was a grinding sound and the fissure closed. The light faded.

It began to snow.

 

come back tomorrow for more...

If you like this story, watch out for Ken's upcoming publications.

 

© Ken Brown, 2018ff