Curse of the Ferryman: 1

May 28, 2018 | Short Stories | 0 comments

1.  The Night Hunters of Limmon

 

Lily’s father was the ferryman. He had a boat and a pole, and he carried people over the grey, fast-moving river Limmon. They would come to the bank and ring the bell that he had hung there, so that he would know they needed to cross.

If they had money they paid him. If they did not he carried them anyway, and they thanked him, for thanks were as good as gold to the ferryman.

 

He gave most of the money to Lorne, the Lord of Limmon, who lived in a tower above the river.

Lorne was a cruel man who hunted men with dogs for sport. He said that the ferry was his, and that it was only there because he allowed it. Lily’s father said nothing.

Lorne starved his dogs to make them fierce. Their teeth could tear a man to pieces.

Their teeth could tear a man to pieces

Sometimes, in the dark evenings, Lily would look out from her father’s hut and see them streaming along the hillsides with the moon on their backs and their noses to a scent. Then her father would take his boat-pole and tell her to lock the door behind him. When he returned, it would be hours later, and he would say nothing.

People in the glen told Lily that her father was a brave man. They whispered that men owed their lives to him. And they said that he must be careful. The Lord of Limmon was terrible and his sons were crueller still. Some of this Lily said to her father.

He said, ‘I know.’

 

 

One night in winter, when the river was running fast, Lily heard the dogs. Her father heard them too. But he did not go out.

The sounds grew louder. They came pouring along the riverbank towards the ferryman’s hut. Now Lily could hear the clatter of hoofs, the rasp of iron as swords were drawn at her father’s door.

She heard Lorne’s big voice calling ‘Ferryman!’

‘Run!’ cursed Lorne. ‘Run for your life!’

Her father opened the door. He faced the Lord of Limmon, who was a big man, a head taller than any other man in the glen. He faced the three cruel sons and the forty starving hounds, all baying and baring their teeth at him. He said nothing.

‘You have been stealing my game from me, ferryman! You have been taking my enemies in your boat and slipping them out of my reach, all these years I have allowed you on the river!’

‘No one allows me on the river,’ said the ferryman. ‘Except the river itself. And the river is stronger than you.’

‘Run!’ cursed Lorne. ‘Run for your life! For when we catch you we will tear you to pieces!’

There was no chance even to say goodbye. Trembling, peering through a crack in the door, Lily saw her father disappear into the night. She saw the men laughing as they smashed his boat to pieces with an axe. She saw them throw the ferry-bell far into the river. Then they blew their horns and mounted their horses. The dogs raced away, a river of madness and death, and the men rode after them.

All that night Lily listened to the sounds of the pack, growing and fading along the riverbank. She heard the dogs puzzle as they lost the scent. She heard their fierce joy when they found it again. She waited, for hours.

No one had ever escaped the hunt of Limmon

Father knew the river better than anyone. He had lived on it all his life. Sometimes he spoke of it as if it were a person. He would use it to escape.

But then how could he? There was no ferryman to rescue him, as he had rescued others. If he hid, the dogs would smell him out, and if he ran they would catch him. No one had ever escaped the hunt of Limmon, unless father had helped them.

The sounds of the hunt had faded. Lily heard nothing for an hour or more. Was it safe?

Safe or not, she was going to look for him. She wrapped a blanket round her shoulders and left the hut.

 

In the grey dawn she found him at last, a mile downstream. He must have tried to swim the river and it had been too strong, even for him. He was lying among the reeds, his skin white with cold.

The river mud was in his lungs. He coughed, and though she put the blanket around him she could not warm him. But Lily’s father did not blame the river. He lay in her arms and rolled his eyes at the reeds.

‘Let him not sleep’ he whispered as he died. ‘Lorne of Limmon. Let him not sleep – until one living soul has thanked him for a thing he has done.’

The reeds bent and whispered, although there was no wind. The whispering carried up and down the banks of the river.

And high in his tower Lorne woke howling from his dreams.

Part 2: “The Madness of Lorne” – read on!

(This story first appeared in The Phoenix Comic, 14 April 2012. Illustrations reproduced here by kind permission of Paul Duffield)

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