Young she was, and strong. Her belly was full. Her stools were firm. Her hair was long, with no split ends. Her thighs were alabaster, and she clasped them a lot. Life was good. All her needs were supplied in ampleness and abunditude.
For sustenance she plucked the fruit off the trees and the roots from the ground.
For shelter she had her happy Hut, her twig-built. And for maintenance purposes, the surrounding woodland vale was a veritable House of Hardware.
For clothing and footwear, she had no need or want. Warm and clement was the clime, and the very ground kissed her soles and toes with lips of soft, hydroxylising meadow-wort. On special occasions she wore her hand-woven peat-yarn panties, which she kept in a bulrush basket by her bed.
For companionship she lacked not. There were few if any human peoples within a hundred miles of her twig-built, but all the beasts, bears, birds, bees and bugs were her associates, if not friends, in the most profound and pompous sense.
For conversation she only had to turn to the nearest deer-turd, the fleas within her bushy armpits, or even the very moss beneath her naked feats. For she had been born with the Gift of the Tongue — she could instantly and instinctively understand all the languages of human- and Barbarian-kind; as well as all the secret dialects and pidgins of creatures great and small, even of stones and bones and other inanimates; and of spirits, sparrows, auctioneers, town criers and gypsies, nanny goats, pilchards and sphagnum. Yes, and pigeons too.
Her name was Clothilde. How she knew that, she didn’t know.
A peculiarity of her mind was that it felt uncomfortable with certain types of so-called knowledge. Of her childhood she remembered nothing. Of her later years she remembered only fragments, disconnected episodes. She knew her name, but didn’t know who had named her, or where the naming had been performed.
She knew that there were things she didn’t know. And she knew there were also things that she didn’t know that she didn’t know. But she knew someone who seemed to know a lot about everything: a wise Old One, a guru of sorts — a gnarled and indeterminate personage, of dubious provenance — with whom Clothilde had had irregular and disturbing dealings over the years.
And today was a day pregnant with possibility, a good day for a random encounter with the Old One. She felt it in her bones, rippling through the marrow like a hot scramaseax or snickersnee through the buttery heart of a morbidly obese sacrifice to the gods. A good day for venturing forth upon the eagle-shat peaks and crags festooned with mountain-goat droppings.
For it was upon days such as this, when the sap of intuition rose high within Clothilde’s sapience, that the quantum stochasticities would trend towards an increased likelihood of encountering the Old One — the warped and wizened practitioner of the dark and light arts, from whom Clothilde had learned her name and how to inscribe it, some twelventeen summers ago.
Of nut-brown hue and hazardous loincloth, the gnarled one had stood in loco parentis as motherfather for as long as Clothilde could remember. Indeed, the nut-brown’s noble mien, as creased and corrugated as a turkey’s wattle, had long loomed large in the girlwoman’s consciousness.
Reaching into her bedside bulrush basket Clothilde retrieved then slipped into a freshly laundered pair of peat-yarn panties. Then she egressed her twig-built, pausing only long enough to retrieve her goatskin cloak hanging on a hook by the so-called door.
As she went about her hikeful way, along the wild and windblown tracks and gullies of those deserted parts, she didn’t gaily sing or even hum anything, though it was a close call every now and again.
Three hours later she found herself kneeling in the dirt at the dusty feet of the Nut-brown, ensconced upon a boulder in the shape of a large stool.
“Oh do get up Child,” quoth the Gnarly One, “The dance of the fleas among thy head-hairs is not a site mine tired old eyes find easy on which to focus.”
“Huh?” responded Clothilde, the light of understanding failing to dawn over the dim landscape of her brain.
“Get up! Get up! Be upstanding!”
Clothilde stood up hurriedly. She adjusted her goatskin cloak, ...