Cat on book logoJody Lynn Nye


Excerpt from Advanced Mythology


Prologue:

        The russet wooden casks were laid on sturdy cradles to sleep undisturbed in the cellar until their liquid contents should mature sweetly into drinkable dreams. Marm trod softly along the dirt floor between the rows, listening to one here, turning one there, mentally taking note of which of his distillings were close to being ready to consume. Though he was not considered especially sure-footed for one of his Folk, his steps wouldn't have been audible by most animals, nor by any of the Big Folk, with their puny rounded ears and their big, threshing feet.
         The russet wooden casks were laid on sturdy cradles to sleep undisturbed in the cellar until their liquid contents should mature sweetly into drinkable dreams. Marm trod softly along the dirt floor between the rows, listening to one here, turning one there, mentally taking note of which of his distillings were close to being ready to consume. Though he was not considered especially sure-footed for one of his Folk, his steps wouldn't have been audible by most animals, nor by any of the Big Folk, with their puny rounded ears and their big, threshing feet.
        Marm, like the most of his family, stood about breast high to a Big person. If it hadn't been for the beard on his broad, fair face he would have looked like a child not quite into his teen years. His skin was smooth and unlined. His thick hair, cut just above the collar of his shirt, glinted dark gold in the cool circles of light issuing from the lanterns hung along the walls.
        A faint rasping sound attracted his attention. He lifted his head, listening with all his might. His elegant ears, nearly five inches high, swept up in a slanting arc from behind his cheekbones to tapered points at the top. Marm turned slowly, trying to detect from which direction the noise had come, and decided he must have heard a truck bumping along the road that ran along the front of the 20-acre property known as Hollow Tree Farm.
        Did his Big neighbors only know that in the midst of this drowsy farm country in the heart of rural Illinois lay a veritable village of people they considered to be mythological; impossible, even; they might have been lost in wonder. But he liked them to think he and his existed only in fairy tales. It was far safer for him and his loved ones that the Folk should never be discovered. Even those Big Folk who had come to be trusted in the village begged them to be careful not to reveal themselves. The Folk knew what to do about that. They'd laid charms around the property that kept out those who didn't belong and fooled prying eyes into thinking there was no one special here at all.
        Marm was happy to keep himself to himself. Let others go off adventuring and dare the gaze of strangers' eyes. He loved the quiet life with his family, his work, and his beloved brewing.
        He glanced speculatively at one of the kegs. Each one had been brought laboriously from their old place to this new place, one at a time, driven slowly and secretly from their last home. Each had been carried down the stairs with Marm beside it all the way, and installed on wooden support brackets that had been a joy to make, of whole wood that they could afford at last, so they wouldn't tip, or rock or leak. The sweet essence within had been brewed with their own fruits and herbs, better than anything the Big Folk had at hand. In fact, his liquor was considered very good by the standards of his own Folk. Marm was proud of his skill. When special occasions arose it was always his brews that people hoped for to toast the celebration. His eye came to rest on the barrel he knew had been fermenting the longest. Like the others, that one's contents had had over two years to settle. It might well be worth tasting. He reached for the wooden cup that was hooked to his belt.
        A shadow flitted past his head in the dimness. Marm waved a hand to ward it away from his face. A bat? Perhaps he'd better get one of the others who was wise in the way of wild creatures down here to check. It'd be wrong to keep wild animals trapped, even by accident. He knew how he'd feel about being locked in a cage.
        The wine barrels were much larger than the casks. The newest of these held a special place in his heart and that of all the Folk. This wine had been pressed from grapes grown on vines tended by their own hands on land that they could at last call their own. Such a thing hadn't been true, Marm stopped to think, for over a hundred years. He and his had lived a secret, timid existence, running from one place to another. The last home they'd had, in the bowels of Gillington Library at the heart of the Midwestern University campus, had lasted over five decades, but it hadn't been theirs, not really. Hollow Tree Farm was. It belonged to them. They even had a legal deed showing ownership. After so many years, the Folk could stop wandering and worrying. They were putting down roots, magical as well as physical, delving deep into the earth, spreading out, feeling themselves safe and secure and set. Wine, which couldn't be hurried and couldn't be agitated, and didn't like to be moved, was a good symbol of their new rootedness. Marm laid hands on the nearest barrel, sensing the bubbling within and laying a blessing on it at the same time. When the time came to drink this vintage, he wanted it to seem as though they were quaffing pure joy. Yes, Marm thought with satisfaction, stamping on the hard dirt floor, feeling the charm of protection that enveloped the farm under the soles of his feet. Yes, a body did best when he could call a place home.
        He liked being down in the cellar, where it was cool and peaceful. Not that he didn't care for his extended family, but when tempers frayed there were fewer places than before to flee to. And lately, there'd been more arguments than usual. Everyone seemed to be picking a fight with everyone else. Well, it was a busy time, what with orders to fill, and no energetic Keith Doyle to run hither and yon at their whim.
        He lifted the lids of each of the tuns. The heady aroma of yeast and grape must tickled his nose. Marm wrinkled that feature as he checked the level of liquid against the wall of the barrel. Every vintner knew of the natural evaporation of a quantity of fermenting liquid. His Folk called it the Wee One's tipple. The Big Folk called it the 'angel's portion,' supped by divine beings, perhaps in exchange for blessing the wine. The angels in these parts certainly were thirsty. The level was lower at this stage than any other wine he'd ever made. Perhaps the cellar was too dry. That was bad. It could lead to the barrels shrinking or cracking. Sinking a trifle of magic into the floor, he strengthened the charm protecting the room, sealing it against the outside, and adding a provision to preserve more of the natural humidity of a cool, stone-walled cellar, though not enough to allow mildew or harmful molds, so that it wasn't sinking into the wood.
        The shadow whisked past him again. Marm ducked back, feeling it almost touch his skin. Definitely something here, something that ought not to be. It made him cross that someone had been falling down on his or her duties to make certain the living spaces within the old farmhouse were fit to live in. He'd have to go and find out who should be responsible, and have a few words. Bats, indeed!
        A suspicion roused itself in his normally placid mind. What if it wasn't the Wee Ones taking sips from the barrels? What if it was one of the others, sneaking draughts of the maturing liquor? How dare they interfere with his business?
        Marm stomped up the stairs, not troubling to blow out the lanterns hanging on the walls.
         The fire-snake coiled in a corner of the cellar underneath one of the wooden brackets, waiting until the noisy-footed being had gone away. It had not been easy to get into this place, and that was wrong! The snake was not accustomed to having its path blocked. Throughout all time its kind had gone where it wished. The walls of this structure had never presented an impediment before. Now a power lay around them, sealing the building as tightly as an egg. The snake tasted the air with its tongue. The power was foreign to this area. The snake didn't like the flavor. It had liked the liquid in the barrels, and did not appreciate being disturbed from its drinking by the being who had just departed.
        Spreading scaled-feather wings, the snake slipped into the air and flitted toward the smaller kegs. Choosing the one that smelled best, it prepared to pass through the wood as it had before. A film of water met it, solid, not liquid, yet it was not cold. The snake withdrew, shaking its head, hating the sensation. It nosed the lid of the keg up instead, and drank its fill.
        Noises above reminded it that this was a hostile place. Time for the snake to leave. It made for a shadowy corner. Its nose banged into the wall. The snake backwinged, then rushed at the corner again. The solid masonry repelled it backwards several feet. It could not escape! It had not been easy to find a hole to come into this place, and now it found its exit barricaded as well. The large being had closed off the hole in the barrier it had made. Angrily the snake rushed at the walls, banging them with its nose. Its unblinking eyes saw no break in the barrier.
        The traditional underground roads had never been blocked since time began. The snake felt ill-will towards the newcomers. Their arrogance must not be left unpunished.
        It slithered into one of the barrels and took a long drink. Too much of the sweet liquid gave it a headache, stirred its already aroused temper. The intruders into this land should not benefit by their deeds. The snake left a curse on what was left of the bubbling liquid. Whoever drank from these barrels now would suffer misfortune.
        The snake was still unsatisfied. That was not enough of a punishment. It swarmed through the unprotected inner wall of the cellar, into the drain pipes, and slithered toward the upper reaches of the house, tasting and probing as it went. It would make these newcomers sorry they had ever interfered with the course of nature.


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