He has never been afraid of anything in his life. Why this? Why now? His youth of training as a warrior prepared him well. That, and his size and strength, helped him with the handful of dungeons he worked so hard to clear. None of that frightened him. Why now, alone on this moor, is he scared? A sound in the distance ignites his warrior training. Wheeling around arms outstretched, warhammer of power in his right hand, empty bag in his left. Even his normal strength, twice that of a farmer, would not typically permit this feat, but attuned to his heavy gloves and platinum ring of power, it comes without effort. He shakes it off. There’s nothing there, but the sound brought him out of his mania and into the present. His surroundings are unfamiliar. A gray sky stretches as far as he can see, not cloudy, just gray. The presence of the sun felt but not seen. Hints of pink and purple thistle dot this barren moor of yellows and pale greens stretching before him. A half day’s walk in the distance climb the peaks of a mountain range he is not familiar with. Most curiously he’s drawn to what appears to be a lone stone in the distance. A large stone, sitting about a half an hour’s trudge, but this isn’t what he is to be doing. He’s got at least four other jobs waiting for him.
Time and time again he’s ruined himself this way, chasing wonder, chasing his curiosity, hopping from one adventure to the next. He rarely completes a quest lately. He says he’s bored, it’s not a challenge, I don’t like the patron or the town, or whatever excuse he can come up with. They are all excuses.
In his youth he could do anything. Any weapon he picked up flowed in his grip. At first he fought with a sword. Everyone was training in sword fighting. One could start out making bags of coin right away with a sword. He was great with a sword, but it was boring. Mind numbing boredom. In that fit that disrupted his whole life he switched to the warhammer. It’s a much more creative weapon, and very respected. Anytime someone learns you fight with a warhammer they’re in awe, or dead. It depends on how you let them know.
He’s remembering now where he was before he was here. Falling down the spiral of self doubt and indecision he slipped into his mania and must have stepped out for a walk. How he got from there to here, he can’t recall. The filids and bards, those who travel far, have said that the land has a way of guiding you when you are not thinking. A valley here, a river there, a sound to avoid and a sound to investigate, they all lead us where the land wants us. Something wants him here. With childlike wonder he propels toward the stone, and his cycle repeats.
His path to the stone was short if he could have gone straight, but this was a moor. As he struggled against the thistle and peat more than originally judged, this path felt like everything else – unnecessarily difficult.
How many lords and ladies are recognized purely for being born to the right parents? Themselves, finding a similar fame purely for their birthright. Birthright, it’s a strange word. Is wealth a person’s right at birth? What do we have a right to at our birth? He’s stronger, faster and more cunning than nearly all from his homeland, but his birthright was poverty. If this were a world built on merit and ability, he would be recognized above nearly all. While he has amazed and received accolades from his few patrons, his homeland favors a surname over skills and coin over kills. He catches himself down the rabbit hole again. Trapped by the spiral of destructive thoughts that consume his attention; make him forget himself. Maybe it’s better he remains in his thoughts instead of the moor.
He looks back from where he came. Thinking it might be better to go back there, or West. Wherever West is. He has a job that leads him West.
In a halt, he catches himself upright, hand to his hammer. He finds himself standing on a bit of solid ground in front of a prone stone monolith. A stone this large was once standing proud, but now it’s laying in submission to the elements. Scanning his surroundings, he sees that he is alone with the stone on this barren moor.
Staring at the stone in awe, in bewilderment, he can feel its presence in the back of his neck. It’s magnificent and frightening. His mind returns to the spiral, to this quest and that, interesting at their start, but now are merely a chore. But which to complete first? He does not know. He has a hundred questions but no answers. As he returns to these thoughts his rage follows and he reaches in his bag for an implement to quell the fire within. In his red hot fury he strikes at the stone and a fissure forms across the midsection. The sound from his blow unnaturally echoes across the moor like thunder from the gods. He quickly rises to the sound and scans the horizon. The ricochets from the mountains far to the North are unnaturally loud for the hours walk to the mountain base. To the south, no mountains lay, but a sound ricochets still. The warrior within comes back to life, alerted to this peculiarity. But the warrior within does not stay in charge for long. It’s almost as if the stone sings to his fury.
With the spike of his warhammer, in a frenzy of rage, he strikes at the stone over and over, no aim or plan – just pain. With each blow the shape of a hollow becomes more clear. At the same intensity with which the assault started, he stops, and within the plateau of the stone at the southern edge a hollow takes shape, like an egg but bigger. A place to lay his head, and lay he did.
At first, in penitence to the weight of his shadows. He lay face down, nose smashed into the stone. A sense of comfort washes over him. A sense of calm finally flows through his body reaching every inch, chasing his flowing blood to the ends of his finger tips, the ends of his toes. Filling his lungs as he breathes in. Expelling his insanity as he exhales. He relishes in the peace. He remains there, penitent to the stone for three days, in a dreamlike state, a stranger to the world of distraction and distrust.
On the fourth day, a noise awakens him. Having remained in this place, nearly motionless for three days, relieving himself where he kneels, taking water from the dew that settles in his hollow, he has become accustomed to the sounds of this place. Accustomed to the absence of nearly all other noise, save for the wind from the skies and from his lungs. This was a new sound. Peeling his eyes from the depths of the hollow he positions them just enough to see the stone to his left. To his bemusement, there has alighted a common bee.
Fascinated by its presence he decamps his weapon hand and smashes it. By instinct he recoils his left hand, feeling as if he was stung. Examining his palm he finds it clear but the back of his hand is screaming with pain. A noise in the distance takes his attention, and the years of warrior training show their force over his behavior. Shifting to one knee and with a hand on his hammer he quickly scans the horizon. Turning to the mountains behind he sees no source to the sound. It was nothing, he assures himself.
The bee holds his thoughts for a little while longer. Where did it come from? Is there a hive nearby? Might it have honey? And, for the first time in many days he’s reminded of his stomach. Hunger gnawing, he sits down back to the hollow. The thought of leaving the stone terrifies him, so he lays back, and stuffing his loot-bag under his back he rests his head in the hollow, eyes to the sky. Despite the rough nature with which it was carved his head fits comfortably in his new hollow. Unlike the nature of this place he feels warmth.
Staring at the sky, there are still no clouds, just gray – gray mountains beyond, gray stone to his back and a gray sky above. Just as a slice of peace opens up, pain like a knife sinks into his back. He bursts out of his repose, turning to seek the culprit. He sees nothing but is met with another stab in his upper chest somehow piercing his armor. He retreats into the moor, hammer in hand, trying to understand. Another sting at his back and then again at his front sends him reeling away from the stone.
His anger is rising now, boiling up and pressured by the bewilderment. As a sting sinks deep into his thigh he pulls up sharp from the pain. He turns to check on the stone, he is not sure why, but relieved it’s still there. In a crouched spin his warrior’s rage bursts from within. Power runs through him like the fire that bursts from the exploding mountains.
One swing after another finds no purchase, and with each marching step new barbs find their way through his armor of Power. His eyes half closed, ears burning red, and grip on this earth beginning to wane he lunges with a spinning swing so fierce his hammer slips from his grip and he crashes into the peat. At first he thought he stoned his head, for the hum in his ears was numbing, but as he raised his chin and opened his eyes he lingered to behold the source of this sound.
He propped himself up on all fours at the base of a thistle bush. In the half minute he lingered there he realized the source of his attackers. At the cup of each thistle where one would usually find the flower or weed, appeared a pearl. Just as a city fountain can sometimes clog to a trickle, the pearls fought to spill out. Tumbling out of the cup they would fall to the ground, and just before they touched down they would burst yellow and take flight.
He focused on the few in front of him, but as he opened his viewing angle he found the moor carbonated with thistle bees. Confusion flashed and fear followed. He grabbed his warhammer and ran, but the swarm had taken chase. The few harried swings he managed to let loose only slowed him down. The bees didn’t just sting and take off. They seemed to inject their poison and stayed with him. Fear turning to desperation he marked the hollow in stone and barreled on. Instinct tells him he must reach the stone. Maybe he could cling to it for refuge. Racing back, his fear begins to abate even as more bees blanket his skin. Slowing his pace as he nears the stone, his limbs begin to shut down, and he realizes he is screaming, the sound muffled by bees pressing in and out of his mouth. His tongue, heavy with stingers, chews like the flesh of a dried fruit.
Writhing in pain, covered from head to toe in the heat and hum of a thousand bees, he knows his death is at hand. Then he sees the whole of his life. In this single moment, a thousand moments pass in his mind’s eye, all of which mean something or at least meant something. Behind the stories his agony fades, or does it press? He cannot tell. Time seems to stop as one image flows to the next, sometimes as moving memories, sometimes as stills. He can sense in a dark place of his mind that the images are drawing closer to the present.
At last, his mind stops at this moment, at the image of him, here in front of the stone. Standing centered on the stone, bated in breath, a cold sweat adds to the sensations of his skin, a sense that the gods themselves have kissed him all over and the devils below are flaying him alive. In unison, the bees disengage, stingers in skin, hovering inches away as if they were apiary armor.
A thousand stingers deep in his body, the hollow in stone solely at his mind’s eye, and the bees hum to cloak his thoughts. He’s wrapped in a pain so intense and a pleasure so great that he feels them as one complete sensation. He has never been more complete in his life. There is nothing else to add.
In this moment, at the edge of his death, man, hive, and hollow become one. With two steps left in his life he kneels at the stone. Suddenly, as if grabbed by the creator himself, an image so overwhelming, so terrifying, floods his mind. A great forest spreading across the land wielding power beyond any ring or amulet, power beyond any sword or hammer, with the strength of a thousand oaks, a thousand yew, incorruptible men.
At last his quest is clear and with this peace he cradles his head in the hollow and dies then and there.
This story has never been told, for I call myself the LootLark and this is my origin. I happened upon the prone monolith with its curious hollow not more than a year past these events. The hollow in stone, at that time, lay accompanied by a pair of trees. Two bags lay at the base of one, and a third bag lies in the shadow of the stone. I dare not touch their contents.
My quest for these two years had been to write the stories untold and unsung. These are the stories whispered between friends, the stories a mother employs to calm, warn or motivate her child. I had dedicated myself to this charge.
When I arrived at the hollow I was weary with travel. Seeking a moment of rest I sat before the stone, facing the curious trees. With a sense of safety in the air I lay my head in the hollow. It was surprisingly warm. And there, with my eyes to the sky, calmed by the scent of the moor, a stream of images began to permeate my mind. I recount those images here, for the story gifted to me is the story of hive, hollow ,and man and their everlasting quest.
When the last image faded from my mind I awoke, having fallen asleep. In an instant my senses snapped awake as before me hovered a host of bees of which I have never beheld. They floated in the shape of a man, expressed in astonishing detail, from the glitter of his neck adornments to the subtle flow of his robe.
Before this day, I would not have thought such a thing possible, because as I lay there, frozen by such an astonishing site, the host raised what appeared to be an arm and pointed me in the direction of town. I understood that the host wanted the story he gifted me to be written.
Unfortunately, for years I feared revealing this tale, for twice since I returned to the hollow in stone, and twice left with a story to tell. Each time the stand of trees had grown, and each time I left more afraid than the last. To this end I have penned the following warning turned rhyme, made for Mother and Brother alike.
01 Aye, be the Grove of Hive and Hollow
No map can mark it there
Yet on the full moon
O’ the fifth fortnight
Adventurers can find it where
They seek their top treasure
And to the quest they must be true
For in this grove
Lay a hive and a hollow
To set their follow through.
Forewarned be thee, Adventurer
The grove’s blade cuts both ways
It’s trees will not be familiar
Yet those who dally remark
They flower yet
Bear not fruit
No leaves to identify, nor bark
Yet shade for days they will provide
And knots by the pair in dark
Will open when
Your back does turn
To judge you as you embark
To the nave of this loose thicket
Where lies a humble hollow in stone
Of Heart Stone
Be it hewn
To the sages, this is know
In this hollow is what you seek
For the grove has made it so
It leads you there
And seeds in there
The fruit your heart hath sown
Now, The Master of Mead and Honey
Notes a beehive thinks as one
Drones to work
A queen to lay
Their job is never done
But the grove controls this hive
Bee and trees are of one mind
They always protect
They ever expand
To this, the grove has them aligned
Forewarned be thee, Adventurer
The grove’s blade cuts both ways
To the Adventurer who quests unwavering
But finds their seek in need
In the hollow of stone
An oracle, the grove will seed
And set its hive to lead your way
As bees can find home from afar
Follow the hive
Then oracle’s guide
As the door to your quest be now ajar
If free you roam, knowing not your quest
Fear not, just make your leave
But loiter here
On divided heart
And the grove will tether your lead
To pull you forth to the seeded hollow
Where a fruit so fine in taste
You will not heed
Nor stop, but eat it whole in haste
Forewarned be thee, Adventurer
The grove’s blade cuts both ways
You have marked yourself
The deed’s done
The hive sets out in a craze
As you reach the crossing from grove to not
The hive encircles – sets sting to skin
Your feet turn-out roots
Your arms become limb
And two knots hold your eyes within
Welcome to the Grove of Hive and Hollow