Σάββατο, 1 Ιουνίου 2019

Marbo, Kallo And the Goblins

Published in Issue 2, Volume 10 Schlock! Magazine 

Once upon a time, before mankind could dispel night with the flick of a switch and when the winters were cold and killing, when the gears of the world ground thanks to the muscle of man and beast with blood for fuel, a widow gave birth to twin girls on the night she was told of her husband’s death.
She screamed and she kicked and she called out for him, even though she knew he was dead, until finally, with one great push, gave birth to a little girl. She held the screaming infant in her arms, but as she looked upon it closer in the lamplight, she wept and cried and beat her chest. For the babe had been born with a hunchback and great long teeth and eyes narrow and slitted, like a snake’s.
“Christ and his Mother in Heaven! How happy it makes me now, to know that my husband is dead and did not see this terror.” Hardly had she spoken the words, when the convulsions began anew. Before she even knew it, the widow gve birth to another girl, who she beheld in the lamplight and exclaimed:
“I take back what I said; this little thing is the very picture of delight!”
Exhausted, she cut the umbilical cords of both girls with the knife and fell asleep halfway through nursing them, even through the first one’s teeth would bite into her nipples and occasionally draw blood, threatening to rouse her from her slumber. But the other would be quiet and careful and not make a sound, easing the widow’s mind and letting her sleep her dreamless sleep.
The children were both girls and they grew up so fast, that the widow barely had time to think back and mourn her husband, until she gave up the black and everyone forgot she was a widow and called her mother instead.
The first-born girl, who was uglier than sin when she was born, did not get any prettier. She grew to be taller than a boy and stronger too. Long, coarse hair coated her arms and her long teeth grew longer, the hump on her back grew bigger, her toad-green eyes became narrower. Boys no longer made fun of her, but feared her. When one of them got careless, the first-born girl would catch up with him with barely two great strides and then knock him on the ground with one blow.
She was tough as marble and with strength to match, which is why her mother named her Marbo.
The second-born girl, on the other hand, who was the most beautiful baby in the village when she was born, grew up to be the very picture of delight. She grew up to the perfect height and her legs were long and slender. Her arms were milky white her teeth appeared in her smile like diamonds set up by a craftsman, her back straight and her waist narrow, her maiden-blue eyes big and round and observant. Boys never made fun of her and in fact, bent themselves over backwards to woo her. But the second-born girl would deny them all, for her sister’s sake, who she could not bear to see hurt.
She was prettier than the moon’s reflection in a lake and had a soul to match, which is why her mother chose the prettiest name she could find. She named her after the word her ancestors used for beauty and thus named her Kallo.
When Marbo and Kallo came of marrying age, their mother left the village and headed to a nearby town, to look for proper grooms. The men in the town had heard of Kallo’s unsurpassed beauty and followed the mother to her home, where they brought her silk and mother-of-pearl and inquired naught of her dowry, asking only her hand and promising riches. But Kallo would turn them down, telling them she’d marry after her sister had found a husband of her very own. But when the grooms looked at Marbo, they would ask for six times her dowry and the mother would weep and they’d return to town, their offers of marriage revoked.
So the mother went to the village soothsayer with a bag of wheat and asked her to give her answer, a way out of her conundrum. The soothsayer (who had been older than the village itself) looked at the wheat, stirred it over and over in her hands, then said:
“I cannot make out your daughters’ futures in the wheat. It’s too coarse and hard.” Handing the bag of wheat back to the mother, she said: “Have your daughters take the wheat to the miller, ground it into flour.”
“But tomorrow’s Christmas!” the mother exclaimed “and the miller won’t be working.”
“Then have them take it to him today. His mill won’t have ground any wheat today and so the flour will be purer. It will help me see the future all the clearer.” ,said the soothsayer, running her tongue across her toothless gums, a glint in her eye.
The mother hung her head at the soothsayer’s news, but went back home anyway and handed her daughters the sack of wheat and bid them to go to the miller and have it ground by tonight. In vain did Marbo protest that it would take them near the whole day just to get there and Kallo that tomorrow was Christmas and that they wouldn’t bear being away from home. The mother only commanded the girls and sent them on their way.
By the time the girls reached the mill, the sun had already hid behind Kissavos. Kallo cried that they would not make it in time, but Marbo only grunted and picked her up on her shoulder with one hand, the bag of wheat on the other and reached the mill in an hour, without even breaking a sweat.
The moon was slowly rising from her resting place, when Marbo knocked on the mill’s door so hard that the plaster on the walls shook. Upon receiving no answer, Kallo climbed on her sister’s shoulders and looked through the window. The mill was silent and seemed deserted, but for a hunched old man by the fire, whom the girls knew to be the miller.
“Push me just a bit higher, Marbo” Kallo said. “I’ll climb up the window and go stir the miller from his sleep, so we may be done and get back home before the dawn.”
With a flex of her muscles, Marbo shoved Kallo into the window and inside the mill. But as the girl approached the miller, she noticed how still he was, how perfectly and utterly at peace. She gently nudged his arm, when she saw the great wooden spike that had been driven through his neck and up his skull, transfixing him to the floor, his vacant eyes staring into the fire in horror and disbelief.
Kallo tried her best not to scream. She would have done it too, had she not heard the thumping of something round and hard down the steps and seen the miller’s wife’s head roll down the wooden steps and land by her feet. She saw that her ears and nose had been cut off and hair had been torn.
As if stepping from the shadow or conjured by the fire’s smoke, short and wicked forms burst before her and around her. They were short creatures with crooked noses and skin as black as coal, with eyes that were large and without pupils, the color of murder. In their long, clawed arms they held axes and lashes and a few of them the arms of the miller’s wife. They stared at Kallo and grinned their tooth-filled grin. The girl screamed.
Marbo, who heard her sister’s screams, began to pound on the thick wooden door with her shoulder, to no avail. She ran down the slope and found herself a young oak tree, which she uprooted with her bare hands and ran back to use it as a ram.
Kallo knew what the creatures were, those short and crooked little horrors. She saw their stone axes and their bent backs and their long, dirty berets and knew them for goblins. Of course, she thought. It’s Christmas eve, today! She thought of the warnings, that her mother had taken for tall tales: of the wicked, spiteful goblins, hacking and sawing at the foundations of the world all year, given free reign on the surface only on the night of Christmas eve.
The head of the goblins, who wore the miller’s donkey’s head on his brow like a crown, clotted blood running down his face, jumped on the dead man’s back and stood face to face with Kallo.
“What have we here, then? Pretty little thing. Bet your milky-white skin would make a pretty coat.”
“I want her eyes, to make earrings out of for my beloved!” said the second in command.
“And her teeth! Her teeth will make a fine necklace for my daughter’s dowry!” said the eldest goblin, whose daughter’s dowry, the others knew, was his only chance of ever marrying her off.
Kallo kept backing away as the goblins advanced on her, dividing her into spoils even as she stood there. She looked at their long, clicking teeth and their green tongues that spoke her name and heard the sound of whetstones grinding their axes, when her heel struck the miller’s dinner plate and she heard the sound of bone rattling on the wooden boards. Kallo looked down then and saw the thighbone of a pig, near stripped of meat, which was probably the miller’s last meal.
Without thinking, the girl grabbed the bone and swung it at the small goblin that had reached her, the blow striking it across the forehead. There was a short exclamation, a crunching sound and the goblins ceased their babbling at once, as they saw the bone planted on their brother’s forehead halfway through his brain. With a stutter and a mutter and a torrent of brain and blood, the goblin fell dead on the floor.
At once, the goblins moved to grab the girl, who started running for her life, thinking back to the goblins’ weaknesses that the priest had told them about when they were but toddlers: the pig’s thighbone, that killed them in one blow. The blessing of a house’s threshold, that drove them away and holy water, which made their skins blister and boil. The burning of hemlock, that choked them. And lastly, the sign of the Cross, which made them sick to their stomachs. Kallo fingered her little wooden cross, but did not know whether this would be enough. Screaming for her sister, she ran upstairs, looking for shelter.
It was then that Marbo reached the door with her oak-tree ram and slammed it against the iron-bound wood. Smashed it once, twice, three times, cracking the wood and breaking the hinges. On her fourth blow, the mill’s door did crumble and fall on the floor and Marbo burst in, roaring her sister’s name.
Half the goblins stopped dead on their tracks at the sound of Marbo’s roar, which made even the mill’s great stone wheel rattle on its thick axle. The leader of the goblins sent his best men to check on it and kill whoever might have come to take away their prized woman. But as the half dozen goblin men came down the steps, axes and lashes at the ready, expecting perhaps a crazed beast or a foolhardy man, they found Marbo and they quaked with fear.
The bravest among them charged her, axe in hand, but the girl grabbed his arm, stopping him mid-blow, bringing the axe back down on his head again and again and again.  They heard her crush his skull and crack his bones and would have fallen back, had not their second-in-command lashed at them and screamed.
Howling, the goblins fell on Marbo and grabbed her arms, bit her legs and ripped at her dress but the girl, who was stronger than an ox tossed them off her like they were ragdolls. She broke their arms and smashed their heads against the floorboards under the heel of her boot. She ripped at their necks with her long sharp teeth, making her way up the stairs and when the goblin on the steps lashed at her, Marbo let his whip coil round her arm and pulled him close, driving her fist through his ribcage. The goblin died, his feet kicking at empty air, as he felt her fist bore through flesh and his bone, crushing his spine at the end.
As the carnage downstairs went on, Kallo had locked herself in the miller’s bedroom, where his son had been tied to the bed, bleeding from the head where the goblins had lopped off his ear. Crying, she undid his gag and shook him to cease his babbling.
“Where did your mother keep the Cross?” she shook him. When the miller’s son kept babbling, she struck him across the face and asked again:  “You will not die tonight and neither will I. Where did your mother keep the Cross?”
The miller’s son pointed with his chin at the chest at the foot of the bed. Kallo reached it and saw it was locked. Panic settled in, as she tried to pry the lid open, even as the goblins hacked at the door, breaking through the wood. Kallo stopped then, trying to gather her thoughts over the screaming and the babbling and the weeping. It was then that the moon shone through the bedroom window, making the shadows grow long and Kallo found the answer to her trouble. She ran back and gagged the miller’s son again, as she took from his mother’s bedside the bone needles she used for weaving.
By the time the goblins tore down the door, Kallo had hid beneath the bed, praying but ready.
Marbo had made her way up the mill’s floor, the goblins scattering in her wake. Coated in their blood, her dress torn, her hair ruffled, she seemed to them like Saint Marina, come to bash the skulls of devils and break their spines on her knee. The few that foolishly stood in her way, Marbo killed with a swipe of her hand or the snap of her teeth, as their brothers dropped their weapons and ran for dear life.
Kallo saw the door torn down, the headman of the goblins walking in the room, his form all the more sinister in moonlight. His great hooked nose sniffed at the air and immediately he knew the scent of Kallo over the fear of the miller’s son. Raising his axe, he struck at the bed and cleft it in twain with one blow of his mighty muscles, nearly crushing the girl underneath it, sending the boy flying.
Kallo would have died right then and there, had she not raised the bone needles in front of the headman’s face, holding them so that they made the sign of the Cross. The headman screamed at the sight of the holy symbol, his skin writhing at the sight of it, his stomach churning. His men grew ill upon seeing it and backed away, as Kallo hunted them with her improvised weapon before her like a shield.
They ran, the headman and his chosen men, when they fell on Marbo, who had reached the miller’s bedroom, a trail of gore and broken bodies in her wake. Finding himself between the symbol of his enemy and Marbo, the headman jumped the first-born sister, choosing death in battle over dishonor.
Like a wolf, starved for weeks, he jumped on Marbo’s chest, clawing at her cheeks, biting at her neck and shoulders. Like a tigress, cornered by a hunter, Marbo fought back and they locked themselves in combat, as the rest of the goblins ran and hid in the shadows, silently praying that the morning would come and dispel them from this place of horror.
Kallo drove the goblins away with her cross and ran back to the miller’s son, helping him off his feet. He was quiet now, the pain of his severed ear and his fear forgotten, overshadowed by Kallo’s beauty. She looked back at him and blushed, noticing his longing, when suddenly she realized that Marbo’s and the headman’s screams had long since ceased and had now commenced anew, changed in some way that Kallo could not comprehend.
But as she and the miller’s son looked into the corridor and saw the fight between her sister and the headman having changed to a wholly different kind of struggle, they blushed and looked away, laughing.
As the rooster crowed, the goblin headman, spent by the long lovemaking, fell on his knee and gave Marbo his weapons and his garb, making his men kneel on his command:
“Come with me, Marbo, you terrible baccha of the battlefield. Come with me in the world below and you will be showered with diamonds and dwell in the caves below the mountains, where my myriad servants dwell, your every wish becoming true with a flick of your fingers! Come with me and I will give you more than any surface man could ever hope to give you!”
Marbo looked at the little crooked creature, its long teeth, its wicked claws and hump, its eyes filled with a kind of longing no man that dwelt upon God’s green earth would ever hold for her. She nodded her assent, embracing her sister and followed her groom into the shadowy places that led to caverns below, never to be seen again.
Kallo nursed the miller’s son’s wounds, who fell on his knee in turn that Christmas morning and bid the girl to bring her mother, that he could ask her hand in marriage in the proper manner. The girl rushed back home and recounted the horrific tale, her mother crossing herself, exclaiming in joy, then embracing her daughter. She roused the priest from his preparation of the litany in Christmas morning and led him to the mill. It was there that Kallo confessed to the priest the events of the last night: the murder of the miller’s parents, her narrow escape from the goblins. She spoke not a word of Marbo, telling the story in a way that would seem as if she died, taken by the goblins as a trophy.
The priest heard Kallo’s words and prayed for the miller’s son and her sister to. Then, the four of them buried his mother and his father and spoke the last rites, then went back to the village, to celebrate the marriage.
But as Kallo enjoyed the joys of the world above, so was Marbo showered in the glory of the world below. The headman, true to his word, showered her with gold and the precious stones found in the bowels of the earth. The goblin men, awed by her beauty, did sing ballads for her long sharp teeth and her killing blows. The women envied her and did her every bidding, seeking to both emulate her and surpass her, in vain.
As Kallo drank the sweet red wine of Thessaly’s vineyards, Marbo tasted the liquor from the roots of the trees. And as Kallo lived under the constant care of her husband, so was Marbo given her own retinue of servants to obey her.
Kallo lived upon the green earth, her ever loving husband by her side. Marbo was crowned queen among the goblins. And as Kallo lived to see sunrise after sunrise and rear a brood of children, so did Marbo lead her subjects and give her king twice as many children. And as Kallo grew old and saw her children live to ripe young ages, with a brood of grandchildren of her own, so did Marbo watch the caverns below become crowded with her progeny, a great iron crown on her brow.
And as Kallo gave her final breath and was lowered in the earth, so was Marbo ascended by her children, grandchildren and their children too, upward, there to meet with her sister and be with one another forever.

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