Eriam – the beginning of the beginning
There are places beyond worlds, places beyond dreaming, far away places in lands seldom heard of. My name is Eriam, and it has been my blessing and my curse to travel beyond mountains high, down rivers rolling, through forests deep and thick. I return with stories. Poets compose epic verses of my exploits. I see in their eyes the glint of scepticism.
Do I speak the truth? This is for you to wonder and me to know. As I tell you the tale of ‘Tyranna the Troubled Troll’ and my part in her travails.
It happened in a land of searing heat, where colour had leeched from the sky. A merciless heat, a fierce heat, sent by one more malevolent than any I have encountered before or since.
I had but recently returned from an underwater odyssey, and I was fatigued, damp and shivering. I heated some butternut soup, made a mound of toast and stretched out in front of the fire delighted to be on firm land again. (Terra firma, as they’ll no doubt say when the latest broadsheet is circulated.) I crunched my way quickly through two pieces of toast, then cradled the steaming mug in my hands. Sip by sip the rich golden liquid revived me faster than any magic potion could have. I shook my head, the water in my ears still gurgling and buzzing, and gazed into the flames.
I should have known better. Chatting to me from the chimney is one of Dorma’s favourite ways of communicating. It seems as if all I need is to be nicely relaxed, my belly full, ready to drowse off, and she’ll call me.
‘Eriam, come.’ Her voice was as deep and commanding as ever. (Personally, I think she practices in front of a mirror.)
I sighed and shifted away.
‘Eriam come!’ I shook my head again. Perhaps I could blame it on my water-logged ears – say I hadn’t heard her.
You want the truth? The real truth about Eriam the Exceptional (one of my many sobriquets)? All I wanted was some time off. I wanted a small taste of a nice, normal, boring life.
‘Eriam! Enough of this!’ (A slightly peevish tone now, and I knew I shouldn’t push my luck.)
I sighed, hoisted my rucksack (always packed) onto my shoulder, and stepped reluctantly into the flames.
‘What is it this time?’ I asked, (my own voice equally peeved) ‘and what will I need?’
‘Look down,’ Dorma instructed.
Suspended from a gossamer thread around my neck I saw a small vial.
‘Another potion?’ I asked.
‘They come in very useful,’ Dorma snapped. ‘Of course, if you’d rather go without one …’
‘No, no,’ I said hastily. ‘Just fill me in quickly. What’s it for?’
‘Oh, you’ll know soon enough,’ said Dorma, her voice fading away on a chuckle.
But she was gone.
Exasperating, her habit of throwing me into the thick of things where I hadn’t a clue what was going on.
I looked around.
Hmmm. A crowded bazaar, people calling their wares. And yet, there was something strange about it. I stopped, breathed, and tuned my senses (for which I am rightly renowned).
The voices were subdued. People moved slowly. There was no hustle, no haggle, no shrill calling of wares.
And it was hot. So hot I could feel the sand burning through my plimsolls, the heat scorching my lungs as I breathed. The sun shone down from the white sky – a spiteful eye. I put out my hand to stop a woman passing and she flinched.
‘Good woman. (My innate knowledge of all tongues came to my aid as it always did.) What ails this place?’ (The formal tone always works well with strangers.)
Her eyes darted from side to side, and her tongue flicked between her lips. (Positively shady I’d have said, if it weren’t for the stark fear on her face.)
‘You do not know?’ she said.
‘No,’ I said patiently.
She leaned towards me. ‘I should not tell you this lady, but you have a kind face, and Aquaneaous knows, we see few of those around these days.’
I smiled, and waited.
She breathed the words, her mouth barely moving. ‘He calls himself Sol, and he has harnessed the power of the sun. Soon he will burn us out of our village; already he has reduced our fertile land to sand.’ Her voice broke. ‘My children starve. My husband is dead. None can conquer him. None can get past the creature that guards the entrance to his lair.’
Too hot to sweat, battling to breathe, I sighed.
Oh Dorma, Dorma. What have you got me into this time?