He was a Shrouder, ordained from birth to emerge in mist and fog to collect Elves’ Dew from basalt rocks. Ordinary persons could not discern the quality of water imbued by the Fair Folk. Detecting the elusive shimmer took innate talent and a good amount of training to trust what one saw right on the edge between the real and imagined.
Elves’ Dew. The world’s very spin depended on it, and yet most people did not know or believe it existed.
Thornsten used to think it odd. “Do they really not see or do they refuse to?” he’d asked Boulder. He must have been no taller than the large man’s knee at the time. Four or five summers old at most, and a wee one at height even for that.
Most of them were. Smaller.
Early born. Sickly. Odd in growing. The ones already half-way here and half-way in the other worlds.
Boulder was in that sense an anomaly for a Shrouder. Six-feet-tall and barrel-chested, he could lift rocks the size of a small man and break little sweat for it. He towered over most of common men, let alone the Shrouders he was training. And yet he was a Shrouder, and perhaps the better of them. Or was, some said, till Thornsten.
“They see only in parts,” Boulder had responded. “Like black and white instead of color.”
“But you do not see color,” Thornsten argued. Boulder’s eyes had been milky gray with whitish film from birth. “And anyway, the shimmer has no hue.”
But Boulder had only nodded and said no more and left the boy to wallow in a prolonged pouting and to wrestle whatever meaning he could out of the answer.
It was the way of Shrouders to do so.
A moody tendency that some saw as obstinacy and some excused as a product of having seen the afterlife and been sent back on delayed entry.
Thornsten thought that was odd, too. How else was one to ruminate an understanding without time spent submerged in one’s own moroseness?
In any event, by the time he reached eight summers, he came to think of others’ lack of belief in Elves’ Dew as more of a matter of need for adequate technology for visualizing the mythical. Perhaps a bit like how people hadn’t believed that germs were real only because they could not see them, and so had refused to wash their hands from the effluvia of death before they tended to laboring women. It had been a costly — and for some, a lingering — ignorance. Same could be said for the stubborn denial of the reality of Elves’ Dew, when the essence was mandatory for life’s survival. Would there ever be lenses that could translate Elves’ Dew into what ordinary people saw?
He asked Boulder about it the next time the mountain breathed in their souls and let them know it was time to go collecting.
The cool air pooled around their feet as they climbed. It filled their lungs with memories of moisture. In the midst of resting clouds there shimmered pearls of Elves’ Dew. It boggled Thornsten’s mind that some could not see them when they were clear as morning.
“Perhaps a way would be found,” Boulder answered. “But we best ensure life remains viable until people evolve sufficiently to manage it.”
He bent his bulk and siphoned a few drops into a cask, careful to leave some behind for the Fairies.
“But evolution itself depends on Elves’ Dew,” Thornsten countered.
The large man shrugged in reply and Thornsten knew he’d get no more out of him at the moment.
They worked in silence for a while. Behind him Thornsten felt more than heard the other Shrouders. The small troop had been listening to his conversation as well as to the mountain’s breath.
He pouted, but in spite of him the calm of the misty fog filled his inside eye and guided his hands from rocky dent to basalt shelf to precious drops to cask.
Long moments past.
“It may be you, if anyone,” Boulder added so quietly that Thornsten wasn’t sure he’d actually heard words. Recently he found that thoughts had their own voice, sometimes.
He looked up to see Boulder’s milky eyes resting on him.
“You will lead the Shrouders, Thor, and much sooner than I had imagined.” The man’s mouth did not move but the words formed, crystalline, in Thornsten’s mind. “And it won’t surprise me if you’ll somehow lead the ordinary folk to the marvels for which they had till now been blind.”