To the few who watched them in stealth, through the concealment afforded by the trees, despite the howling, worsening tempest, they looked like lightning that had flickered on, but failed to flicker out. To those who ignored their companion’s fears and crept closer to inspect the scene in better detail, they appeared to be beautiful fair haired people, women, mainly. Their dresses were not simple beast fur fashioned into raiment, but some silky white gossamer, as though spider webbing had been spun into cloth. The watchers could not imagine how much web it would take to produce an entire outfit. It seemed impossible, as impossible as the little wings that kept the people from touching the mud with their feet. The dark hued, hairy faced, slightly stooped watchers had to keep moving to stop themselves from getting stuck in the quagmire that had been a dry trail only that morning. Their legs were caked in filth. Equally bizarrely, the winged people were not wet, though the rain touched them just as it hit the cold, saturated observers for who the trees offered no weather protection whatsoever.
“They see us,” Abitha said, in her own language, which sounded like sweet bird song to any listeners other than her own kind.
“I know. We are safe though. It is the ones whose lower jaws slope backwards; not those tall, arrogant and brutal cowards who slew Magdus. The watchers fear us, respect us, and won’t come closer.“
Abitha sighed. “Eresha, the tall ones plan to attack us, and they also have bloody plans for their distant cousins here. They covet their lands. Now that we know their daggers can harm us, we must do something about the situation soon.”
“Lord Oberon already knows of the problem,” Eresha observed. “He is considering starting a war between the two races of man. He thinks their mutual destruction is our best protection“
“We don’t know that for sure, sister. It is mere rumour, and such talk is not permitted. You know that. Oberon wants us all to meet here shortly to hear his official announcement of intention.”
“Is that why you brought me here?”
“Yes, Sister. Look, the rest of our friends approach. Lord Oberon comes too. We are about to find out what must soon be.”
The lightning bolts flashed on, illuminating the leaves and branches of several trees. They formed a circle around a single figure, an audience for his amphitheatre presentation. The watchers shielded their eyes and retreated a little, but continued to watch, unaware that their presence was easily detected.
Unlike the rest, Oberon wore gold leaf. He too was unaffected by the incessant rain.
“Children,” he said, in a dark mournful song. “I have taken my deep council and reached my conclusions. Many of you have speculated and slandered me with the desire to cause a war between the two species that are rising up before our eyes from their common ape ancestors. I forgive you such thoughts, for I did consider such avenues, only to reject them in favour of the course I will now divulge to you. Already, the mortals of both species have forgotten how they found the secret of fire, and a few already experiment with wheel power. Each has people who see us and people who do not see us. The swarthy ones fear us, and hide from us. They venerate us and lay flowers at little shrines in our honour. They would bond with us as more than distant allies if they could. We know that dare not come to pass, for our kisses can poison their hearts too much with love. They are not yet ready to fully unite with us.
The others fear us but do not venerate us. They see us as a threat, and aim to eradicate us. The death of Magdus at their hands will make them bold. They know that they can hurt us. We are too few to hold out in straight battle and our magic alone can now save us. I propose a radical change in our World, in which we and the race we shall call Neanderthal shall survive unharmed but largely unseen. The others will largely perish, and their survivors shall see us only as myth, legend and fantasy story at best. A few who will get to know of us and dare try to talk of us to others shall be dismissed as lunatics. “
“Forgive my questioning at this point, my Lord, but how shall this change be achieved?”
“Dear Abitha, you ask what I am about to relate in my own time anyway. I propose what I have already started to unleash upon the new sapiens. This un-natural rain is my doing, as you will have guessed, and it will continue and get much worse. The mortals live by necessity close the mighty rivers, like here, by the Jordan, and around their globe they live in villages close by other rivers. Their need for water means they set up cities close to such resources and rarely move more than twenty miles from home and fresh water. The water will be made to flood by the rains. They will face floods like they never experienced before. Most will perish. Some will be allowed to survive. “
Eresha cut in, and her tears made it look as if the rain had soaked her face despite her charms. “What of the animals who also need the waters of life? Surely they cannot be allowed to drown too?”
Oberon smiled. “Indeed they won’t. many will come with us to the hidden realms. Others will be saved by the humans we allow to survive.”
“Who are the survivors to be, my lord?” asked Abitha.
“A good question, child. A good question. I have studied the mortals, and they are a superstitious lot. They struggle with limited science to grasp how they came to be. Their shamans try to create legends and stories about how they were generated.. I intend to present them with evidence to fuel such notions – I have developed several religious visions and prophesies, to inspire them to create a whole industry of belief. It will help take their minds off us as they seek out what isn’t really there at all. I intend to begin with a human near here, by the way of Noah. I will appear to him as a servant of a god, perhaps for him, the only God, and tell him of the flood to come. I will give him time to build a boat to round up the animals of the vicinity and take them with him. He can have the goats, cats, dogs, mice, rats, etc. In time, in relating the story set down about him his descendants will very likely imagine a far greater menagerie than he is capable of carrying, After all, he is not likely to catch tigers or bears at short notice, and he knows nothing of Kangaroos or other marsupials. It could be centuries before they discover the lands we travelled round just a few hours ago. Nevertheless the stories we will feed Noah’s mind will hide us and the people in the woods right now from harm. The fact that their religions are false will punish them for the death of Magdus too. Within a few generations we will be forgotten in favour of greater entities who have no real being. Only after death will the murderers and their descendants learn of their foolishness, an instant before their oblivions. That is my plan. It seems better than simply slaughtering the mortals this very night for their crimes.”
“It sounds a lovely plan, Lord”, Eresha said, smiling. “But please don’t let Noah have the unicorns. I want them to come with us.”
“As you wish, child. The new sapiens will not get to take any of the unicorns.”
As the men in the rain watched, the lightning finally flickered out, though a few bolts now flickered on close to them. A smiling lady reached out a hand and the men found themselves bone dry despite the increasing rain. The lady spoke, and not in birdsong, but in a voice they understood,, and yet it stayed as sweet as birdsong.
“Fear not, my friends. I am Eresha. I have some important news for you. The rain will not ease off, and in fact, it will get much worse. These plains will soon be deep underwater. You must move away for your own safety. Come to shelter with us for a while, by a fire that never goes out, and where mammoth and unicorn roam aplenty.”
After brief negotiation, the men followed the lady in spider-web dress, and were never seen in the land of the rains again, except by few.
The thunder made itself known to the terrified Noah as he tried to shelter from the storm in a narrow cave.
"I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood…”
The instructions continued for a while. Noah listened and then fled in fear, awe and faith to start work on the tasks ordained to him.
Oberon grinned and rejoined his own people, laughing. “That’ll teach them….”
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
Dedicated to Gemma Leishmann – a cave-man costume she created for me inspired this story.
Oberon’s speech to Noah is a quotation from Genesis 6:13 (English Standard Old Testament edition).
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