The other two passengers introduced themselves as Jorg and Brunolf. Jorg was an older gentleman. He was well dressed; not obviously rich but with a mannerism that spoke of a long and respectable, well ordered, life. Jorg had been coming to the East Hemsfil Anetacht on his vacation for the past twenty-one years and seemed happy to be back for yet another summer holiday.
Brunolf was of an age with Enar and he too had the complexion and physique of someone who spent most of his days in an office behind a desk. He was some kind of accountant and just like Enar, it was his first time in the anetacht. He seemed mostly relaxed and confident but every now and then a slight nervous tension could be glimpsed beneath the surface. Enar was equally nervous himself and he too tried to hide it beneath a facade of relaxed cool.
Jorg, by virtue of seniority got to sit on the seat next to Hasse at the front of the cart. The newbies, Enar and Brunolf, got to sit in the back with the luggage on top of the apples. There was a fair bit of scuffing around before they were both reasonably comfortable on top of the lumpy sacks and even then the bumping and jostling of the cart meant they had to adjust their positions from time to time.
Old man Hasse was a formidable talker. No sooner had they all been introduced to each other than he was telling them all that had happened in the anetacht since last they'd been there. The fact that neither Enar nor Burnolf had ever been there before didn't seem to bother him at all.
He told of how the biggest bear in decades had mauled someone and then been hunted down and killed. There had been some debacle about who was to marry someone's daughter in one of the villages and once again the same village as always had tried to bribe the judges in the yearly cider competition. Enar didn't know much about the villages themselves, but he'd read about the cider-houses they all had and about the yearly competitions about who made the best cider – apparently it was a really big deal.
As the old man spoke Enar took in the view. Like the train, the road went eastwards, with the plains to the north and the forest to the south. Unlike the train the road twisted and turned as it wound its way along the edge of the forest. The band of grassland with little trees and bushes had been cleared and the shrubs cut down and taken away. The plain came all the way up to the road and the forest began right away on the other side, like some rugged coastline. Here and there out on the plain old sheds and barns could be seen and every now and then they passed little cottages snuggled up among the trees near the road. Somehow this didn't fit in with Enar's expectations of how his people would live in the anetacht and he eventually worked up enough curiosity and courage to interrupt Hasse and ask about it. He scooted over towards the front of the cart and coughed politely.
“Excuse me Mr Hasse please, my I ask a question? Why are people building cottages here? I thought everyone in the anetacht lived in burrows?”
The old man laughed and smiled as he turned around to answer the question.
“Noticed that did you. Well lad, it's simple really. To dig a burrow, man needs a hillside, right? And to have a hillside, man needs a hill, right? Now lad, if you want to live where there's no hills, what do you do? Well, it's easier to build yourself a house than to build yourself a hill. That's how it is.”
“Yes, well, that does make sense. But why would anyone want to live here when they can live in a nice hillside burrow? Isn't that the way it used to be?”
The old driver harrumphed a little as if unhappy about the question, but before he had time to say anything it was the other old man who answered. Jorg, like Enar and Brunolf, had been mostly quiet throughout the trip so far, not putting much effort into getting a word in between Hasse's stories, but now the old gentleman turned to address his fellow passengers.
“Not all of us are all the same. You know this from the city. Some like one thing while others like another. It's the same out here. There are those, like me for example, who enjoy spending their evenings contemplating the mysteries of an unbroken horizon - not to mention admiring the spectacular sunsets.”
It was quiet on the cart for a moment. All that could be heard was the creaking of the cart and the clop clop clop of the horse's hooves as they hit the ground. Enar thought a little about what Jorg had said.
“I guess that makes sense too. I didn't think about that and I don't think it's for me. I want to try living in a burrow. I've never done it and I've always imagined it would be very nice and cozy.”
“Oh, it's nice alright” Jorg replied “I just prefer the wide open space of the plains. I know it's not the norm, but it brings me the peace I need.”
Hasse shook his head and looked the other way as if uncomfortable with the subject but remained quiet while Jorg continued.
“I'll only be with you as far as Grums. It's probably another twenty minutes or so and after that you'll be off into the forest and up in the hills. There you'll see burrows of all kinds, large and small. There will still be buildings above ground, but people will mainly be living in burrows there. It is, after all, the traditional way. Those who live down here are generally considered a bit strange or eccentric, but they're good anfylk just like you and me.”
With his last words he raised a meaningful eyebrow and with a knowing grin he nodded towards Hasse who sat facing forward. Enar took the hint but was unwilling to drop the subject entirely now that he had the opportunity to ask questions.
“If they live down here by the fields, wouldn't it be a good idea to farm the lands? I see barns, but there's no farming going on? Or am I just missing something or is it not the seasons for it now?”
Jorg made as if to answer but Hasse, eager to get a word in, was well ahead of him.
“It's not permitted this year. The Green Man has forbidden it.” His tone held a hint of smugness, as if he relished the opportunity to share some great secret none of the others could possibly know anything about. He fell silent as if waiting for someone to ask the obvious question and Enar was happy to oblige.
“The Green Man, who is that? One of the village elders?” He figured that would be the most reasonable explanation. There ought be someone who kept track of when it was time to work the land and when it was time to let it rest.
“Village elder? No, the Green Man is not one of us. They say he's an elf and that he speaks with the voice of the plains. I wouldn't know myself. I've never seen an elf that tall, and I've seen a few elves in my days. They were never that tall. The Green Man is nearly twice as tall as you and me lad.” Hasse nodded knowingly with a conspiratorial grin before he continued in a hushed voice.
“Know what I think lads. Don't tell no one, but I think the Green Man is the spirit of the land itself. That's what I think. He's the Untann.”
“You have seen him?” Enar blurted out excitedly before he could stop himself. This was news to him. He'd never heard of anyone speaking for the spirit of the plains before. As far as he knew there was only one elder elf shaman in all of Viller and she never left the Gotecan Hills.
“Yes. I've seen the Green Man. Once, many years ago. I was just barely a grown man back then and I'd gone with my dad to the harvest festival in Grums. It's Grums we're going to next by the way. Nice place that. They have the best harvest festivals. Why, I remember on year...” the old man stopped himself from getting sidetracked, seemingly with some effort and then continued.
“Sorry, yes, I saw the Green Man. I'd gone with my father to the festival and the Green Man came there. It was late and I was tired and maybe I'd had me a few cups too much of Maud's cider. She made great Grums-cider did Maud. Much better than Ginette who does the Grums-cider now.”
“Anyway, the Green Man came there. It was late and the music was playing and the dancing and the drinking had been going on and then all of a sudden the Green Man came out of the darkness and the music stopped. He was the tallest person I have ever seen. Twice as tall as the tallest fylkin I ever met and skinny as the legs of a newborn deer. Long green hair did he have and he was so pale of skin it would make my ma's finest tablecloth blush.”
“He walked into the crowd without a word and he just stood there and smiled at us. Everyone stood still and looked at him to see what he did. And he just stood there for the longest time and it started getting a bit scary and then he raised his arms and laughed. Was not a scary laugh it wasn't. It was a laugh of joy like he was really happy about something and it was really funny and it made everyone smile. Only I didn't get the joke and I don't think anyone else did, but maybe it's something you have to be the Untann to know.”
“Then the Green Man fell quiet and he got serious and with a flourish he turned into a million fireflies that lit up the night much more than the lanterns and the bonfire. At first everyone screamed and was really scared but no one was hurt and it was really pretty. The fireflies settled in all the flowers all the girls wore in their hair and made them even more beautiful and the cider kegs all filled up as if they'd just been opened. I know, because I stood right next to one and no one was even close to it and it had been half full and now it wasn't. So I refilled my cup and took me a swig and it was the best cider I ever had.”
Hasse continued talking about that night at the harvest festival. It had apparently been something out of the ordinary after the Green Man had left, but Enar stopped listening. The only reasonable explanation he could come up with was that the Green Man was an elven shaman and an old and elusive one at that.
As archivist of the Shamanistic Division of the Kul Viller Police Enar was familiar with all practicing shamans of note in the country. It was part of his job and though he barely knew any of them personally he knew their names and where they resided. The only reason a shaman capable of what Hasse had just described wouldn't be in the records was that no one knew he existed. There were no records of an ancient elven shaman of the Lower Vil Fields anywhere. If the Green Man was what Enar thought he was then he must be both very old and very powerful, which was probably how he'd managed to stay under the radar for so long.
Enar started digging for his phone to call Neta at the office and tell her before he once again remembered he wasn't supposed to do that here. It was the second time he'd almost slipped up and it was barely two hours since he'd stepped off the train. He started to realize why the brochure had suggested he leave the phone at home.
Enar gave a sigh and tried to adjust one of the sacks of apples a little to his right. He might as well make himself comfortable and enjoy his vacation. The Green Man had been eluding official notice since Hasse was young, who knows how many decades ago. It wouldn't matter much if there wasn't a file for him in the archives for another week.
Continued in Day 1 - Scene 3
Back to Enar's Vacation.