Another two weeks passed by, and the dark remained as stifled and silent as before Godfrey’s interruption. Then, quietly and without fanfare, a new stranger entered the mist. It was a small and elderly man, who walked with a stoop but not a cane. He carried no sword nor shield, not a scrap of armor adorned his body. Clearly he had not come here for a fight, but he did move with a purpose. And though the darkness pressed around him as thick as it had Godfrey, he pushed through it boldly, as though he knew exactly where he needed to go. The man had only ever been to this hamlet once before, but now he was drawn to it a second time. Drawn to fix what had been broken.
As the stranger strode down cobbled street and carpeted halls, he paid no heed to the ghostly shapes that rose to peer at him, or the broken pieces of banister and rubble, or the body hanging from the iron-wrought sconce of the chandelier. He gave no regard to the smell of death and decay, uttered no words of challenge, and listened to none of the unearthly moans ringing in the distance.
The man made straight for the ill-fated mansion in which the dark entity had been conceived, and without hesitation he climbed up to the attic. Stepping between the boxes and furniture he came to an old, abandoned desk, three feet from which lay the splintered heart of all this oppressive darkness. With a sigh he took off his hat and laid it upon the desk.
“Who are you?” a voice called, and looking around the man saw it came from his reflection in an old mirror set against the wall.
“I am Bartholomew,” he replied simply. As he spoke, he pulled out a magnifying glass and set it against the desk, focusing his attention on a corner of it.
“But who are you?”
“No one of consequence. A simple carpenter.”
“This is no place for a carpenter.”
“I must disagree,” so saying he stepped back from the desk, revealing to the mirror a damaged corner. It appeared as though something heavy had fallen on the spot, wrenching the wood downward and snapping off a chunk.
“You have come to fix a desk?”
“So I have.” And Bartholomew reached down to his belt and pulled out his tools.
“In this place of utter ruin, you have come for the desk?!”
“Twas the desk that was ruined first. The desk and an insult about it. All else followed. So the desk must be remedied first.”
“But why do you come?”
“Well…I made this desk. It is my responsibility.”
The mirror had no response to that, and for a time there was only the sound of Bartholomew doing his work. Using a knife, he shaved away the loose splinters and remaining veneer. He meticulously dug out all the dirt and dust that had collected in the wood’s pores. Then he opened a jar and began applying a resin, remaking the damaged corner, carefully sculpting it to match its original shape.
“You do know that this a place of evil…” the reflection spoke up again.
The old man sighed. “There is great pain here. Much has been broken.”
“Fixing a desk won’t do anything.”
“It will fix the desk,” he offered simply. “Beyond that…we shall see.”
He held his hand over the resin, and it set itself instantly. Then he opened another jar and dipped a brush into it, applying a stain to match the color of the desk. It was a very small jar, yet it continued to yield stain for as long as he dipped his brush into it.
“There!” he said with a smile, stepping back to admire his work. He nodded in approval. “And now for the refuse…” Bartholomew opened a pouch at his hip, then bent down and began picking up every sliver of wood that had been discarded in his labor. He scooped into his palm every grain of sawdust, too, and all of it went into his pouch.
“That’s all there is to it?” the mirror asked.
Bartholomew turned and more fully regarded the nexus of splintered pain.
“It will kill you,” the mirror cautioned.
“The wood knows its master,” he declared. He took a step towards the dark nexus and it trembled more violently. “Come, little one,” he said. “You were never meant for this.”
Bartholomew extended his hand, but the splinter did not come.
“I know you were hurt. Something broke the desk, and you were the one left detached. You were wrenched from where you ought to have been, and it wasn’t your fault. Then, as you fell, you found this ill feeling from below and you bonded with it, even though that only aggravated things further.”
Dark tendrils reached out, groping for Bartholomew, but he waved his hand and they fell to either side.
“It might seem impossible, but you can come back. Things won’t be the same, it is true, but they will be better and have purpose. You know my skill. Even the refuse is not refuse to me. I compress it, I reform it, I give it a place that is new. Come to me and you will have a new place.”
He said no more, only held out his hand. All at once the splinter burst from the evil notion, severing all its ties to it, and tucked itself into the carpenter’s palm. Without a word Bartholomew nodded and put it into his pouch as well, then turned on the spot and made his way from that place.
And as he went all the dark tendrils started to fade. Without the splinter of wood to give the core dark thought any purchase, it dissipated away into nothingness, and gradually so did the mist. The clutch of evil was freed from the hamlet, for without the aggravated malice there was nothing to continue driving the pain and hate. By the time Bartholomew’s footsteps left the cobbled streets the town had fully emerged from the dark back into the brighter world. The streets were still empty, the town was still in ruins, but it was finally at peace. Life would grow back with time.