The rediscovery of a box leads to a new revelation.
When the Gabbler was in his early twenties, he found a box on one of the ships he and his friends had attacked and taken. It was a small wooden box and would not have attracted his attention had it not been for the intricate carving of its top surface. He looked at it briefly, then added it to the length of sailcloth he was using as a container for his loot.
That evening, back on the raiders' boat, he came across the box again while going through his most recent acquisitions. He studied the design on the lid. It made no sense to him for it was not a scene of any sort but rather a combination of abstract shapes and swirls. But it was beautiful, a perfectly balanced arrangement of pleasing form.
He tried to open the box but the lid refused to be moved. The Gabbler studied it, turning the box this way and that to see if there was some hidden mechanism that could reveal its secrets. There were metal hinges at the back so it appeared that the lid was meant to swing back at that side. At the front of the box there was a small, irregularly-shaped hole. It seemed that there must be some sort of implement that could be inserted into this hole to release the catch inside.
The Gabbler searched for something that might fit this strange hole. There were various pins and metal ornaments amongst his stash that looked as if they might do the job and he tried them all. Nothing worked. Becoming impatient at the thing's intransigence, he seized one of the blue knives he had been collecting and began to work it into the narrow gap between box and lid. When the knife was deep enough, he pulled upwards on the handle. There was a sound of tearing wood and the lid swung open.
Inside the box, resting on a bed of some smooth and soft, red material, lay a statuette. It was gold, shining in the light of the lamps, in the shape of a man, seated and with legs crossed. The face was studded with tiny red jewels for eyes and the tongue protruded from the mouth in derision. Its hands rested on its knees and both held weapons, a sword in one, a mace in the other. It was naked apart from a brief loincloth but on its head was set a strange helmet, close fitting to the scalp and surmounted with a bird of some sort.
The Gabbler lifted it from its resting place and examined it. As he turned it in his hands, the light glimmered across its smooth surfaces and danced upon the points of sword and helmet. The jeweled eyes flickered in the light of the torches with an intense red life. The gold felt warm under his fingers.
He set it upon the deck before him and gazed at it for a while. It stared back at him, unafraid of this raiding brute, the terror of its maker. The Gabbler pondered upon its purpose; why should this thing have been kept so securely and carefully upon a trading ship, perhaps the prized possession of some ignorant and sweaty sailor? It mystified him.
He knew that it had a beauty of its own, however, and, when he tired of trying to fathom its meaning, he gently returned it to its box. He closed the lid upon its unanswered questions and placed it back amongst the other items in his stash.
In the days that followed, he forgot the box again, embroiled in the excitement of the chase and the oblivion of the fight. Other treasures were piled into his stash until the box was buried both in reality and in his mind. The summer days passed in the heat of battle and the idleness of waiting.
When the raiding band returned to their island home, the Gabbler came across the box once more as he was transferring his latest finds to the hoard he kept in the longhouse. He opened the box again and gazed once more upon the strange, enigmatic and insolent creation. It was impassive and yet somehow mocking in its expression. Although aware of its disdain of himself, the Gabbler was unaffected and held no particular feeling towards it. He knew only that it was beautiful in its form and its reflection of light. He could see, too, the craft and skill that had gone into its making. More than anything else, however, it was the Gabbler's desire to know its purpose that made him keep the thing.
Oh, he could easily have offered it for sale to one of the smithies, to be melted down and form the decoration of yet another weapon of war. And a high price it would fetch, too. But the Gabbler was unusual amongst his comrades in that he did not sell everything that he stole. His collection of blue knives was an instance of this, perhaps a reminder of that first knife he had seen that set him upon this path of adventure and pillage. The box with its odd little occupant joined the growing hoard of things he would not sell.
The years passed and the box slipped from the Gabbler's memory. He found himself a wife, chanced upon one night in the land of the enemy, and settled down with her to become a farmer like his forebears. Their son grew up and left the home to become a wandering teller of tales; the couple relaxed into the peaceful twilight of their autumn age.
It was the woman who found the box again. Taking it into her mind one night to go through the things that the Gabbler had brought from the longhouse so long ago, she came upon it as a surprise amongst so many things of obvious value. To her, a wooden box was nothing of note, a commonplace thing amongst the riches with which he had wooed her.
She did not open the box, perhaps because she knew well what it contained, but brought it to the Gabbler where he sat dozing before the fire after the day's exertions in the fields. He opened one eye when she nudged him and then sat up and took the box from her hands.
"I had forgotten all about this," he said quietly.
She said nothing but watched as the Gabbler opened the lid and carefully took out the statuette. It was still familiar to his touch, even after so many years, and he placed it before the fire so that the reflections danced once more upon its form and its eyes glowed anew. For many minutes he gazed at it and she watched him, wondering what caused such gentleness in her rough yet sensitive man.
In the end, however, she tired of the silence and spoke.
"Do you know what it is?" she asked.
The Gabbler turned to look at her.
"No. I have had this thing since I was young and have never known what it is for. I think, perhaps, that is why I kept it."
"I can tell you what it is for." And, when the Gabbler's face showed that he wanted to know, she told him.
"It's a god, a charm. Some of my people think it has power to ward off evil spirits. This one is called Analescu, the god of the sudden strike, the ambush of the unexpected."
She paused a while before continuing and the Gabbler waited, knowing his wife and her love of teasing him.
"Some sailors used to keep these with them. They have many things to be afraid of and I suppose any help they can get in their struggle is welcome. This one was kept to ward off and defeat pirates."
She smiled as the Gabbler put his head back and began to laugh.
Word Count: 1,318
Author’s Note: This story was written as a taster to my book, The Gabbler’s Testament. It is not included in the book but is faithful to the events therein. The story can stand alone, I think, and that is why I thought it might be a good entry to this contest. If you want to know more of the Gabbler, you’re just going to have to ask me nicely if you can read the (unpublished) book!