The Talesingr had lost her words. She would open her mouth and nothing would come but the croaking of an old crow, the sound of wind on the bare hilltops in the bitterest winter. Yet the tales were there, crowding inside her, jostling one against the other to be set free, to be loosed from her flesh and dripped like honey from her tongue. They scratched behind her eyes and made them sore. They camped in her stomach like legions of warriors before a battle, tense and sleepless, making her belly churn and ache. The younger ones, more adventurous and indeed, thinner than their elders, squeezed down past her bony knees to try and find a narrower pass to freedom, succeeding only in making her feet throb with every step. They howled in her head all day and all night and she was bereft of sleep.
In desperation she went to see the Dreamspinnr, bringing payment of an antler bone pendant and pine resin for the fire. The Dreamspinnr looked at her through deep hooded eyes for a long time. The tales cried and clawed their way up her throat when the Dreamspinnr opened the Talespinnr’s mouth and peered in, breathing smoke into her face. But they could not climb out. They scratched inside her skull and wailed, making her head ache as if it might burst, but the way was barred. The Dreamspinnr sniffed at the Talespinnr’s breath, looked in her ears and grunted. Then she sat down again. And spoke.
“The oldest stories bar the way. You have kept them too long, and they are afraid to leave. You have hoarded your words, you have not been generous with them. They are dying, becoming nothing more than rotted thought and leaf mulch, and they drag their feet and infect the young ones with their sickness and fear.” And the Talesingr wept in regret, for it was true. She had held back the stories she liked best, waiting for a time of great importance, not wishing to waste them on a day like any other, or a listener like any other. Stories with which to regale a Queen who might one day visit, to win a contest with a fellow Talespinnr from another land…or to win a lover who might stay if the tale pleased him well. Stories she had carried within her for so long she could not even remember how they began…or ended. Stories that were no longer stories, so crippled they had become pushed deep inside her. She had loved them too much and her love had deformed them, stopped them growing tall and true, turned them from tales into nightmares that snatched at her dreams and turned her hopes into ash.
The Dreamspinnr stoked the fire between them, sending fragrant sparks into the small space of the deerskin hut. She said…”I will journey to find what you must do. You and your story children must stay and keep the night with me.” And the Talesingr, tears streaking her face, nodded silently as the stories inside her hushed and held their breaths for the first time in too long.
All night, as the Dreamspinnr danced and sang and beat her drum, the Talesingr watched. Outside the wind howled and the snow lay thick on the ground. It was the time when the Talesingr was most loved. When her stories warmed frozen hearts and filled empty bellies. And she could not speak. If she could not speak, she was no Talesingr at all and she had no place among the people.
When the grey light of dawn filtered through the gaps around the deerskin door, the Dreamspinnr laid down her drum at last, and spoke. “You will go out into the woods. You must go towards the rising sun. At the end of the second day, you will find a cave. You will enter the cave and light your fire. And there you will stay. For three days and three nights, you will spit the words of your broken stories into the fire, you will make the marks of their bones upon wood and cloth and hang them in the trees for the winds to find and take where they will. You will give your twisted children a fine funeral, and set them free. When the wailing in your head has ended, and the stories are gone, your voice will be returned to you. Then you will return to your people, and new stories will come. But you must not hold them back. When they are born, do not seek to keep them locked inside you, set them free and tell them to whoever will listen.”
The Talesinngr nodded in despair, for she must lose forever the story children she had born, but there was no other way. She took up her bow and knife to keep against the wolves, and walked towards the rising sun. To farewell her children and leave nothing of them but ash and the scattered scratches of their bones hanging from the bare branches. Who but the crows might hear their tales now?
The Tale of the The Seven Bird Spirits
All text and images © Christina Cairns 2011