The two hikers stopped at the edge of the tarn and breathed in deeply. Cherub Corncripple let the scents suffuse her every molecule; wild thyme, heather, the sharply acidic snap of larch and… ‘Can you smell that, Barnacle?’
Her companion frowned. ‘Sort of musty?’
She nodded. ‘Like when you get out the Christmas decorations.’
They both stared around trying to pinpoint the source of the jarring odour. Cherub spotted it. ‘There. What’s that chap doing?’
On the far side of the lake a tall wild haired and bearded man was bent down by the water’s edge. As they peered they realised two things. The first was that he wasn’t very tall; the second was that, spreading out either side of him were several other people who were even shorter.
Barnacle squinted. ‘Are they children?’
Cherub was already striding in their direction. ‘If they are they’re wearing fancy dress. Children don’t grow beards, Barnacle.’
‘No, my opalescence. Of course.’ He hurried after her, sure some form of contretemps was afoot.
When he caught up Cherub was already looming over the man, who didn’t seem at all concerned. As Barnacle knew that, more than anything was a sure-fire way to rile Cherub. Her expensive private education hadn’t passed on many transferable skills but the ability to intimidate through condescension was one. ‘I was explaining to this person…’
The man offered Barnacle a gnarled hand. ‘Thaddeus Hillfolder, sirrah.’
Barnacle went to take it before the napalm glance from his beloved scalded his knuckles and he withdrew. ‘Oh yes. Barnacle Corncripple.’ It was then Barnacle looked down, at the line of small figures stretching away all along the side of the lake. ‘What on earth are they doing?’
‘I was explaining to your good lady…’
‘Don’t you “good lady” me, young man.’
Thaddeus snorted. ‘That’s fair kind Mistresses Corncripple but I think I’ll be a few more years than thee.’
Barnacle took in the smooth skin that peeped above the beard. ‘Really?’
‘Aye.’ He smiled, not answering the unspoken question, waiting.
Barnacle knew that tactic. Distract him from the principle matter. ‘What are you doing?’
‘We’re dismantling the set.’
‘I’m sorry? You’re doing what?’
Thaddeus sighed. ‘This is a temporary installation, see. My boys are taking it away and…’
Thaddeus shrugged. ‘Storage. It’s a tricky one, this, seeing as there’s so much water.’
Cherub gave an involuntary squeal as, to her right there was a ripping sound and rocks and earth shot in the air.
Thaddeus spun round. ‘Hey, lads, careful. We’re on a bonus only if we don’t damage the substructure.’ He turned back to the Corncripples. ‘We managed to find some space in the Halls that’ll do, though it’ll be a pain getting it there. Bit of a rush job.’
‘Halls?’ Barnacle looked wary.
‘Asgard. Only space available at this time of year. Apparently they’ll need this over on the Steppes come the spring. Plans for a shift and they’ll be wanting a lake. Still I’m sure you knew that.’
Cherub put her hands on her hips. ‘We knew what exactly?’
Thaddeus smiled. ‘That we’d be along to retrieve this lake and those hills. It was made clear when we installed them.’
‘You installed them? When?’
Thaddeus frowned before turning to his right. ‘Hey, Job, when did we put in this lake?’
A small man with a red hat and very green eyes looked up for a moment. ‘At least a couple of millennia ago, boss.’
Thaddeus nodded. ‘Be about right. Still it was always a stop-gap. We were pretty sure, what with the way you chaps were going you’d be done with it by now. You know, climate change and all. This’ll be a dry bowl in a hundred years and since there’s a growing precipitation in the Steppes the powers that be decided it was as good a time as any to take it up, given it a quick once over – check for leaks, invasive species, you know, that sort of thing – before we drop it into place.’
Cherub looked aghast. ‘But you can’t. It isn’t right.’
Thaddeus’ expression darkened. ‘I’m sorry, madam, but you knew it was temporary…’
‘No, we didn’t. No one did.’
Thaddeus sighed. ‘What about the notice?’
It was Barnacle’s turn to frown. ‘What notice?’
Thaddeus turned and pointed at the hill behind him. ‘There.’
‘That’s a hill.’
Thaddeus wobbled his hand. ‘It looks like a hill, of course, but everyone knows it’s a noticeboard.’
‘No it isn’t. There’s no notice on that hill.’ Barnacle tried to sound offended but he just came across as worried.
Thaddeus wrinkled his eyes. ‘I know it’s a bit dirty, what with a couple of millennia of moss and lichen and what-have-you but just because you couldn’t be bothered to keep it clean, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Ignorance of the law is no defence, you know.’ He moved his gaze from the furious Cherub to the astonished Barnacle and sighed. ‘Alright, half a mo. Stomp, Arinent and Bailateral? Go and show these good people what the notice says.’
Three people of low altitude let go of the edge of the lake and trotted up the hill. In a few minutes they had grabbed the edge of the peat and moss and begun rapidly rolling it back. Underneath a series of childlike drawings emerged, depicting short bearded people rolling up the lake and putting it into a large box.
Cherub didn’t look impressed. ‘That’s just a few scratchings. That’s not a notice.’
Thaddeus shrugged. ‘You’d not developed an alphabet back then. We just had to work with what was available. But it’s pretty clear.’
Barnacle hadn’t looked away from the revealed hillside. ‘It explains the smell.’
Cherub turned on him. ‘What are you one about?’
‘The musty smell.’ He pointed at the image. ‘That thing they’re going to put the lake in. It’ll have been in storage yes?’
Barnacle looked pleased before realising his feelings were not shared. ‘If you’re taking this away, what are you going to put in it’s place?’
Thaddeus looked a bit sheepish. ‘Yes, that is going to be a bit tricky. There’s been a delay in construction. You know how it is. Everyone starts out agreeing, but then you get nearer the end date and one god wants one colour, another wants a different micro-climate and, hey presto, the contractor is demanding more money which only means one thing, banishment to some grim halfway existence and then there’s the passing of blame and the recriminations.’
Barnacle rubbed his chin. ‘You say some god commissioned this?’
‘Oh, come on. You must have got the memo. You’ve all become so lacking in awe these days, you’re all so scientific that the gods have agreed to install a new Olympus, right here. Engender a bit of knee-bending, you know? Lovely mountain it’ll be, too. All the latest mod-cons: daily rumbling thunder and hourly lightening; an app to order your plague of choice; heated thrones and 3D harpists.’
Cherub and Barnacle exchanged a look. ‘What memo? Where was this memo?’
Thaddeus looked up and pointed at the sky. ‘Where all godly memos get put; they’re written in the stars.’
This was written in response to the latest #writephoto prompt from Sue Vincent