Speaking with the Night
The two young boys had sneaked out of their house for the third night in a row. There was no question where they were going: they were going to see the man that never slept. After slipping out undetected by their lonely, widowed mother, the two boys quietly walked down to the loch, launched their small skiff and headed in the direction of the haunted isle. It was only a short journey, but even so, the two boys felt as if they were in a completely different world. The stars above them, so far away and fixed in the night sky, seemed to move with them, as if guiding them to their destination. Soon, they landed the skiff, dragging it ashore far enough so that it would not fall back into the loch, leaving them stranded, and doomed. Individually, neither boy would have had the courage to do what they planned this evening, but when they were together, in the darkness, they were stronger, as if two boys combined, creating something stronger than the children they both knew that they were. Johan looked deep into his older brother's eyes, "Are you sure you can do this? This is no time for your stories. Tonight, we make a story. Deal?" Silas was silent for a moment, considering. Johan hissed louder, "Deal?" Silas pushed his younger brother away. While his younger brother had courage, Silas had strength, a power that Johan could never tame. "Quit your talking. Let's go." And with that, the boys began to climb the rugged hill, up towards the only structure on the isle, the home of the old druid, the man that spoke with the night.
The boys could see the structure of the looming castle by the pale light of the stars. It was even larger and more frightening as they drew nearer, and the presence of the towering castle above pinned them down like a giant talon from a strange bird of prey. The windows were black as death against the faint light that gilded the edges of the towers and ramparts, and seemed to glimmer with the tiny radiance of a strange kind of sorcery. The boys knew that the Druid inhabited those dark halls and cast his gaze over the land with strange, arcane powers, but they did not even understand the danger which they so carelessly brought upon themselves. Slipping inside after finding the huge door unlocked they entered the castle of the Druid.
The emptiness of the castle was like an ominous atmosphere, and they were breathless as if the air had been squeezed out of them by a coiling viper, but still they were unafraid. The darkness was thick, but an uncanny light from an unidentified source allowed them to see just enough to move without fear of becoming lost in the blackness. Suddenly the boys stopped as a wave of coldness froze their feet to the floor where they stood. Before them stood the Druid in all his glory.
"My name is Sionn," he said. "You have entered my home without permission. Give me a reason not to kill you without a second thought."
"We mean you no harm," Silas said tearfully, as his courage had now failed.
Sionn laughed, but he laughter was frightening. "You could not harm me," he answered. "I watched you as you crossed the Loch, and I listened to your conversation. Do you seek adventure by trespassing on the premises of a wizard?"
Silas started to speak, but Sionn stopped him. "I want to hear from your younger, wiser brother," he said.
Johan was terrified, but he was honest, and his honesty gave him courage. "We came here to ask a favor of you," he replied. "I mean, we came here to beg a favor of . . ."
"What do you want?" Sionn said with less vehemence, as he was impressed with the wisdom of the young boy already.
"We want only to speak to our father," Johan said.
"And why would you ask me?" Sionn demanded to know.
"Because our father is dead," Johan said without trepidation, for his fear had turned to strength of will. "He died without saying goodbye to us, and we miss him very much. Our mother is unable to live without him."
The Druid shot a quick glance at Silas. "Is this true?"
Silas could only nod his head in agreement, for his mind was whirling and calculating. The Druid spoke without malice.
"I am not a necromancer," he said.
"I beg your forgiveness," Johan said with sadness. "I was told that you could do anything. With your permission . . ."
"Wait!" Sionn demanded, for the Druid had looked into the soul of Johan and saw that it was good, and the Druid had already looked into the soul of Silas and saw that it was corrupt. "I am not a necromancer, but I will do as you wish."
Then the Druid led them through the castle until they came to a cavernous room. He bade them to wait in silence while he prepared the ritual. Silas looked anxiously at his younger brother, but he was too frightened to disobey the Druid, so he kept quiet while he continued to plot. The Druid had drawn a circle in chalk on the floor, and now he was placing candles at special points of intersection with strange symbols that he had drawn. Then he lit the candles and motioned for the boys to step inside the circle.
"You must stay inside this circle," he said. "This is for your own protection, for I will be opening gateways that extend into the realm of death. Do not disturb the candles, for they keep the gate to the otherworld open and if they should go out, the spirit will be trapped and become a wandering ghost."
The Druid had put a large cauldron in the center of the circle and he now stood over the cauldron and whispered strange words and incantations. The temperature began to drop rapidly and the Druid's hair blew back as from a great tempest rising from the cauldron. The boys were so frightened that they nearly fled the protection of the circle. Now a thick smoke began to rise as the Druid called forth the spirit.
The image fluttered and winked in and out of existence, coming into focus only to dissolve again into the smoke, but to Johan, the memory of his father was contained within the wavering specter, and in his mind he saw the image of his father as he remembered him. The young boy gasped.
"Oh father," he cried, "I miss you so very much. Are you in heaven now?"
The face of the man began to change, and a softness came over his face. "I miss you, my son," and a single tear fell from his eye. "Do not worry my son. Some day we shall be together. Tell your mother that I love her and that I await her in paradise. Now, turn your back from me, for I wish to speak with Silas for a moment in private."
Reluctantly the boy turned away after taking a final look at his father. And now the chamber began to tremble with the frightening sound from the netherworld. Silas waited, for he was afraid to speak. Slowly the face of his father began to solidify until he too recognized him and remembered.
"Are you taking care of Johan?" his father asked.
"He is very young and has much to learn," Silas replied.
"I miss you so much," said the image of the man whose name was Torstan.
"There is little time," Silas replied without emotion. "We are poor and without sustenance. If you have hidden money away you must tell me where it is so that mother can live without deprivation, father. Surely you have hidden money away for us."
"I will see you in paradise, my son."
"The money, father. Where is the money?"
And then the image of Torstan told Silas where to find the money. "You need to go into the Serpents Lair," he said. "You fill find the money I buried there. But listen to me carefully. The lair is protected by a powerful serpent. You must put this serpent to sleep with the magic word I will give you. The serpent is very dangerous, so you must not forget this word. The word is Ajji Majji La Tarajji. Teach this word to Johan so that if you forget, he will be able to save you. You must promise me. Do you understand?"
The image disappeared even as Silas continued to ask questions about the money and where it was buried. Silas committed the magic word to memory so that he would not forget, but he remembered the words of his father so he decided to tell Johan the secret word, but the word he would teach him was not the real word . . . no, he would keep that word for himself.
When the two boys were safely rowing their tiny skiff back across the loch they had recovered enough to speak, for now they no longer felt the forbearing power of the Druid. Silas sat in front and looked dreamily ahead while Johan worked the oars.
"What did he say to you?" Johan asked barely able to withhold his excitement. "Did you tell him how much we love him?"
"Of course," Silas answered with little emotion. "What did you think I was going to ask him?"
"Mother will be so happy to learn that he is in heaven and that . . ."
"No!" Silas answered with fiery anger. "We can never tell her that we have spoken to him, do you understand?"
"But why?" Johan asked with sadness.
Silas thought a moment before he answered. At last he said, "We do not want to upset her. If we tell her what we have done, her sadness will consume her . . . and she will die."
"No, no!" Johan cried, "We do not want to upset her."
"Then do as I say," Silas commanded. "I know what is best for us." And then he told him about the magic word. "Some day I may bring you along hunting treasure. I still have some work to do, so I cannot bring you along with me. Father told me a word, and he made me promise to tell you what it was in case I ever forgot it. The word is tiki-tiki-tiki-tonga. Now, you must remember this word, and you must remember that I told it to you. That is all you need to know for now."
The next night but three, after everyone had gone to bed, Silas left the house alone.
Johan lay in his bed, for he was awake. He could only think of his father and how much he loved him and wanted to be near him again. He watched his brother leave the house stealthily, and he wondered where he would be going at such a time. This was the third night, and he knew that something extraordinary was about to happen. After a few moments, he decided he would follow him, but not too close, for in truth he was afraid of his brother.
Through wild heath country and spindly, mossy bracken, his brother went by starlight until he came to an isolated outcrop of caves that went far back into the mountainside. These caves were avoided by most good people because they were filled with spirits and evil creatures that were best left undisturbed, and legends were told of people being lost forever within the winding and turning passages. Johan ducked down near a large blackberry bush and watched his brother enter the cave after lighting a candle. He quickly followed so that he would not lose sight of him. Once inside the cave he could follow the wavering candlelight but stay far enough back to avoid being seen. This cave was called The Serpents Lair, and most good people dared not enter, for fear of the serpent was great.
The candlelight moved slowly, with purpose, and so it was that Silas was moving very carefully, looking for something. Johan stayed back far enough to remain undetected. The candlelight barely illuminated the dark, cavernous passage which became narrower the further it descended into the cave. The air was cold and damp, stagnant, as if it never moved. For over a quarter of an hour Johan followed his brother until he was starting to feel sleepy. At last the light came to a stop. Johan stopped and waited to see what would happen. After a few minutes he began to creep ever closer to the light.
Suddenly a large serpent slithered past him. Johan cringed, for he was utterly afraid of the folklore attached to this place. He froze, and waited. And then another serpent slithered past him and disappeared into the darkness. His heart was racing, but he did not consider turning back, for his brother was there and he would not abandon him. He crept closer and closer until he was just outside the glow of the candlelight. Then he saw that the candle was burning unattended, and that his brother Silas was on his knees, digging into the ground beneath the rock.
And then without warning, a giant serpent emerged from the rocks and rose up next to the unsuspecting boy. The serpent towered over the boy. Suddenly Silas looked up in time to see the serpent before it struck. The coiled serpent did not strike however, but only quivered and trembled as it considered what lay beneath it. Silas gasped aloud and dropped the small spade he carried. He was so frightened that he could not utter a single sound as his lips trembled. The serpent hissed. It was a terrible sound, but still it did not strike yet. And then its head started to weave from side to side and the horror in the eyes of Silas sent him into a frenzy as the jeweled eyes of the serpent held him entranced. By sheer will he broke the trance.
"Ajji Majji La Tarajji," he wailed, but the words came out only as mournful cries of desperation. "Ajji Majji La Tarajji," he continued to cry but his eyes beheld his own death as the serpent opened its mouth, revealing two enormous fangs behind its slick, red, darting tongue.
"Ajji Majji La . . . Ajji . . ." he mumbled, but the horror had crippled him as he began to shake violently.
The creature slowly brought its viperous head back and arched its body in a strike position. Suddenly Johan stepped out of his hiding place and confronted the coiled serpent, and though his fear was overwhelming, he shouted.
As if stung with a poisonous venom the serpent suddenly became still. And then slowly the serpent turned its head in the direction of the sound. Its eyes were glassy and sparkled with an inner radiance of malice. Johan looked into those eyes, and there was a recognition that passed between them.
"Tiki-tiki-tiki-tonga!" he repeated.
Silas lay on the floor writhing, but the serpent became utterly still. A minute passed, and then a change, a transformation began, and the serpent began to wither away into a dense cloud of putrid smoke. In a few moments only a hanging mist of thick smoke remained until that too, began to dissipate, revealing the body of the Druid in its place.
"You have conquered the serpent," the Druid said with pride. "Your love for your brother has saved him. I am impressed with you, Johan.
Silas lay in the dirt though he was slightly recovered, but he could not understand what had just happened. He had purposely given Johan the wrong word, and yet, the word had saved his life. He was stunned by the experience.
"You shall live another day," the Druid said. "Get up now, Silas, for you have been given life. I could have killed you, but the love of your brother was stronger than death." The Druid brushed the dirt off the still shaken boy and became tender as his heart was filled with admiration.
"There never was any money," he said. "You did not speak with your father, for I am not a necromancer, as I told you. Your heart was black, Silas. I looked into your heart and I saw that it was black. But now I see that your heart has been changed, for though you sought to trick your brother out of a fortune, you have lost a fortune and gained a brother. Are you satisfied?"
Silas was too ashamed to even look the Druid in the eye. He stood there with his head down and his overwrought body trembled wearily. A moment later he felt the arms of his brother Johan as the boy embraced his older brother.
"I forgive you," Johan said. "Let us go home now and care for our mother."