Category Archives: etude

Fall Wedding

I drank in the crisp air, thin and sharp like the bite of mint – the sting ran down my throat and lanced the belly of my lungs.  A soft wisp of steam poured from my mouth like the smoke from a train piping through a bright valley morning. I could feel the heat lighting from the back of my neck, and from the tips of my ears, covered though they were by my soft, brown wool hat.  I hugged my elbows closer to my ribs, squeezing the heat back into my core,  smiling beneath the ineffectual sun as she shone bright but cold upon my face and upon the water of the pond.

A soft breeze scattered a fleet of dried leaves across the nascent ripples birthed on the sheer surface of the glass-smooth water.  The sunlight bobbed and danced over the ridges, shooting crazed patterns like knives in the pumpkin and stone colored canopy above.

I stopped on the path, just before it ducked into the shade of the chattering maples and oaks.  I listened in the quiet to the playful chattering of beech leaves on slender, elephant-smooth trunks.  Those leaves would hang through the long, cold winter in fierce competition with the late oaks – the blissful ignorance of youth pitted against the reluctant willfulness of the ancient.  I would merit from them both, happy animal that I was – free to meander through the light and shade, open to thought and motion so quick as to be ephemeral.

That day I squinted my eyes against the radiance of an October sun on the umber-cobalt sheet of the pond but I gazed through sheaves of years, back into memories of greenest grass and pique of buzzing midge.  I looked not upon the gravel path, succumbing to the onslaught of falling leaves, but rather gazed into the shining eyes of a semicircle of storied faces, backlit with dreams and good intention.

My mind was not focused on the collective whispers of the forest leaves, nor on the mournful cry of walnut-gray geese resting before the continued push south.  Instead I heard the soft strum of string, the guitar ringing free in the outside air, looking for wall and floor to spring from in echo, but finding only shining air and distant cloud.  I no longer heard the soft lapping of frigid waves licking the edge of weathered hull, but instead my ears remembered the expectant hush of minds focused on myth and ceremony.

I stood complete and present in a time that was no longer present.  Fully self-aware in a memory whose mutability my probing thoughts enhanced, I swayed beneath a closer sun, years away and a season apart.  I could hear no words, nor see the detail of face nor of raiment. Yet I felt the mood, and bathed in the goodwill and expectation. We set aside there doubt and fear.  We cast anger from ourselves like empty cloaks – it was not needed in that place we had built.

I knew the sun waned through twilight to evening in the vision.  The untamable eye in the heavens replaced by man’s pet servant – fire, as she danced and kissed the sausages and vegetables, charring and caressing.  And in the darkness we feasted, dancing and singing and smoking and drinking. With feet bare, and hearts open, we revelled in the togetherness of celebration, and we forgot of yesterday and of tomorrow, and of those things to come later.  In that moment we were. Simple and fulfilled, we were.

A shiver ran through my toes, and I, as if from slumber awaking, became present again in the present.  I stood, short pillar of gray and green against the racing brush of time, painting the world before me in maroon and brown and yellow.  So slowly, and yet so very quickly, I counted year upon year stacking neatly behind me, ever pushing me wiser and older down the path towards rest and completion.  I looked upon my world, pastoral beauty framed in billowing trunk beneath cloudless cold sky.

I looked and felt a stirring for the crafty peace of autumn, for smokey childhood days of heroism and timelessness.  I watched a small boat trail glacially slowly across the pond, piloted by a passive silhouette of detailless suggestion.  I felt the heat of the earth retreating slowly into the depths as if all of nature were drawing a hushed breath before slumber.  I knew a wistfulness for the unbridled possibility of youth, and for the slow, deliberate wisdom of age. Within me stirred some primordial duality – the hope for newness and creation, married perfectly to the restfulness of death and darkness.  I saw myself not as a part of the world, but rather as someone watching a world, a stranger catching a shadowy glimpse of a deeper truth that was so much larger and grander than I could comprehend. But I was so thankful for the symbolism, though I understood nothing of the meaning.  I stood in awe, a child behind the discussion of kings and gods, lost and adoring, alone and insignificant – but complete.

I pulled the boots from my feet, and tucked my socks neatly inside.  I placed the boots next to each other, resting to warm in the nearly cold rays of the sun.  The earth beneath my feet was distant and cold. I did not feel grounded. Heat and life fled from my toes, evaporating in the cool dry air, feeling carried away by the breeze.  The soles of my feet spoke of stones and twigs, but their voices were muted in the vacancy of my mind. I walked to the water’s edge, and felt the clear tongues of the waves as they lapped at my toes and ankles.

I drew a deep breath again, and closed my eyes.  I spread my arms and tumbled into the icy blackness of the pond, the flame of consciousness extinguished by the icily merciless bite of the cold, dark water.


Practicing again

The flames crackled in the darkness.  The sounds of the small clicks and pops flew out into the air of the forest night like so many cinders carried aloft in the rising smoke.  Doug settled his back against the stiff bark of a fallen log, still fresh and hard with recently departed life. He could feel the ground drawing the heat from his body out of his ass, leaving it just warm enough to feel uncomfortable on the protruding roots.  He shivered and drew his thin blanket tighter around his throat.

Beneath the bright tongues of flame that consumed the small twigs and branches, the vermilion coals within the growing bed of the fire danced and sighed in the light breeze of the night.  Doug look to the pile of kindling the lay just within the glowing circle of the firelight, resting atop a larger stack of coarse pine and poplar logs that he hoped would stave off the cold of the long autumn night.

Far off to the west, the faint flickers of an unseasonable thunderstorm lit the overcast sky with deep bruises of purple and gray-brown.  The storm was too distant for the thunder to reach his ears. As the hour grew on, Doug saw the storm clouds marching slowly southward, lavishly dropping their precious fall energy against the northern slopes of the tall mountain peaks.

Above his head, sharp, yellow-slate clouds leaped between heaven and Earth, greedily lapping the faint starlight from the sky like hungry dogs.  The valley between Doug and the storm flickered with the lights of the town below, where solemn towers of wood smoke dutifully supported the blue-black dome of the sky.  

Doug turned his gaze from the valley floor.    Though he couldn’t make out the details of the houses from this distance, he closed his eyes against the flickering yellow gems.  Trying to fight back the memories of the woman he had left, Doug succeeded only in conjuring the image of her face, still wet with tears, to his mind’s eye.  He felt the sharp tang of her voice, raw and rough with anger, as she shouted at his back. He could still feel the sharp clap of her words as they crashed into his ears, now ringing red with shame and pain.  Then a pregnant silence, a rich pause in the anger that waited expectantly for him to turn, for him to say something. Anything. And he did pause, for a moment, breathing heavily with a knot in his throat and a tickle in his spine.  He stopped for a second on the path – not considering really, not feeling anything at all except the racing of his heart. His cheeks glowed in the bright afternoon sunlight, and the rim of his hat itched on his sweating head.

Then for moment, he did consider.  A moment too long.

The silence fell sour and was dashed upon the rocks of a single broken sob.  Its impact knocked him to his knees, as the sound of the sobbing faded behind the soft clack of a door on its frame.  

Doug felt the color wash from his face, drawing out his life as the setting sun has drawn the heat from the air.  For a moment he lingered, savoring the pain before the inevitable numbness sank in. He wanted to remember something before he forgot everything.  He bowed his head, and with his eyes shut, felt the echo of that last shout bounce through him and around him before fading to memory in the dying afternoon light.


A pillowy soft shroud of purple-gray cloud

is raked slowly across this early autumn sky,

uncaring as it removes the hot sun from my shoulders.

With strides unmeasured,

unhurried,

I walk across the face of the world,

unhurried,

at peace.

I am.

I am now become that I am,

complete and alone and filled.

I rest my soul on the comfort of five pillars,

each a glowing strand of what I have built,

and of what has shaped this peace

and now carries these tired old feet from nowhere

to nowhere else

unhurredly.

At night I lay restless and in physical agony,

in a house that is a home that caresses the small parts of life

and smooths the folds with unmeasured grace

to drive to forgetfulness the hunger for gold and bauble,

and instills in me a swelling,

a pouring over,

a celebration of who I am and what I will leave

as my mark upon immortality

though I must surely fade as those forgotten before me.

But for now,

I am here,

and the I that is me can live a bit longer,

perhaps,

through these ten glowing eyes

and shining smiles,

echoing through eternity in protein and laughter,

I shall become even greater still.

 


Leik and the Fount

Today’s post is brought to you by the letters I, C, and E.  It’s prose an several pages.  It ends abruptly, perhaps with an ellipsis.  Apologies for that.  Enjoy.


Leik climbed carefully up the slope.  In the dark, it was difficult to know where to place his feet.  Tumbles of scree skittered down the slope behind him. He turned to look back at the vista behind him.

The moon hung like a fat ball of yellow glass, bathing the plains below in a dim, angry glow.  He could see the horses tethered to a few scraggy trees a mile or so off into the distance – small black shadows silhouetted against the horizon. Leik and the others had ridden in from the west, riding down overnight past the boundary of the great Eastern Forest.  The small foothills at the eastern edge of the forest gently gave way to the grassy basin he now looked over. Far to the north, barely visible in the against the night sky, rose the Argonne mountains. Behind them lay the cold Northern Sea. Leik strained his eyes to make out the sea far to the northeast.  Maybe on a clear day, someone with keen sight might be able to see the glint of the water. But not tonight.

Tributaries of the Gliebe flowed from the east, skirting the southern edge of the Argonnes, and growing as they leapt out to the sea to the north.  A small river cut around the eastern side of the small mountain he now climbed, cutting sharp cliffs from the flat top of the mesa. As he turned his gaze to the east, Leik could make out the edges of the ancient stone bridge that spanned a section of white rapids on the narrow portion of the Gleibe.  Though he could not see them now, he knew there were a pair of pillars at the western end of the bridge, adorned with runes and letters marking them as the beginning of the Great Road on its trek eastward to Alyzrad and Stanbrook, and finally through to the Drylands.

Dane and his armies would come along the spur of the Great Road.  Like a black fog, they would pour across the bridge, leaving command groups on the far side of the river, safe to direct the battle outside the threat of dart or arrow.  The Great Road climbed swiftly through a set of switchbacks after the bridge, gaining several hundred feet within the first half mile of westward climb. One of the switchbacks snaked around a large ledge that overlooked the basin.  Dane would set up camp there, posting sentries along the walls of the road the lead eastward. In the event that the Comorraugh were triumphant, the retreat would never devolve into a rout.

Leik turned to look back up the slope to the south.  He was following a small trail, perhaps left by game – goats or deer – that lead to the top of the mountain.  The mountain had as many names as there had been people within the basin – Stone of the Gods, Malock’s Tooth, Umlauk, Grim’s Folly, Leijhorne’s Bane.  It loomed above the basin, an enormous red giant. The sun had baked the rock dry, exposing the red bones of the earth. Trees did not grow on Umlauk. The grass along the path was sparse and coarse, thin brown tufts creeping out from behind boulders.

Leik took a few breaths.  The air was cool and thin, and a lifetime of study had left him ill-equipped for a strenuous hike up the face of a mountain.  He closed his eyes and felt for what had called him from the basin below. It was stronger here, near the top. It was like the scent of rich flowers under a sunlit meadow – or like the call of some strange bird under the thick canopy of the forest.  It drew him onward and upward. He felt a calling that urged his body forward beyond what he knew was practical.

Leik had felt something in basin before.  Many years ago, when he had crossed from Alyzrad to the west.  He had only been a child, only the first signs of whiskers darkening his chin.  But he had felt the calling as the caravan drove eastward. With no training, it was like the memory of a distant scent – something he knew but could not understand.  Now, as a demi-chain wizard, he could feel the call so much more strongly. He turned his face southward and closed his eyes, baking in the light of something invisible to his eyes, something unknown to the men that walked the basin below.  The source lay at the top of Umlauk, a few hundred feet southward and upward. He drew a deep breath again, and hiked up his robes to keep from tripping. After half an hour of climbing, using his hands to half-crawl up the slope, Leik arrived at the top of the mountain.

Umlauk opened before him, bare rock a full furlong across.  The mesa tilted slightly, dropping several feet to the north.  Leik stumbled, feeling as though he would roll off the flat top to the basin below.  The sky unfurled like a flag, radiant with star and moon, driving a feeling of smallness towards Leik like a thunder.  He cringed in the nakedness atop the mountain, squatting against the bare rock and panting like a wild animal.

But the draw was so strong here that he could not long stay crouched.  He felt the aura penetrate his body, filling his lungs with each gulp of air, inflating him with presence with each heartbeat.  It was almost too much. He wiped a tear from his eye, and walked slowly, but purposefully, to the center of the mesa. From here, a rich vista spread out to Leik’s eyes.  The moon seemed to swell, pulling more light from within to better light the valley below. Leik felt he could see the shore to the north, that he could hear the gentle crash of the surf on the beach.  He closed his eyes and sensed the conversation of his comrades below. In his mind’s eye, he saw them walking, scouting the field for the battle to come. Leik fell to his knees and wept silently, filled beyond all that he knew.

After an eternity, after a lifetime of bliss, he opened his eyes to the shining night.  He laughed as he saw the fog of his breath rise in the cool still night air. He walked briskly back to the path he had climbed.  Looking around, he gathered several small rocks – each the size of an egg – and placed them in the pockets of his robes. Then he walked back to the center of the mesa.  

He bent and placed one rock at his feet, closing his eyes to sense the source of the flow.  Then he rose and strode a full chain’s length to the north. Then he gently placed a stone on the ground.  He repeated the process at each direction, making a circle of stones roughly ten meters across. Leik returned to the center of the circle and picked up the stone.  Kneeling again, he drew a small mark as long as his palm on the ground. He took a short iron bar about three links long from his belt. The end of the bar had been bent into an eye four inches in diameter.  Leik knelt and held the bar out before his chest. Each hand was balled in a fist around the shaft of the rod. Leik held the eye of the rod level with his own face, making a circle with his arms – the end of the rod hovering above the mark on the stone ground.

Leik closed his eyes and inhaled several times, drinking in the scent of the area.  In his mind’s eye, he saw the landscape around him. He felt the magnitude of the mountain, and each boulder lying on its shoulders.  He felt the gentle massage of the river along the eastern edge of the mountain’s foot. Leik brought his focus closer, feeling the bare surface of the mesa.  He saw and knew each divot on the face of the stone, tested and tasted the thin dust that covered its surface. He stilled his mind until he could feel the tremors of the stone itself, vibrating imperceptibly in the night.

At each breath he drew in, he felt the presence of the stone itself drawn into his body.  As he exhaled, he kept the energy within. He felt himself swelling larger than his own body, growing with each breath to something larger than he could be, an entity that was not himself, but that contained all that he was.  Leik kept his focus on his breath, as his training had taught him, lest the energy consume him. He felt the chill on his skin, his hairs prickling against the frigid air. He drew in the vibrations until he felt he would burst, until his heart cried against the ecstasy.

Then he breathed it all out into the iron rod.  All the vibration, all the energy, like a deflated bladder, like a slow rolling volcano, he released all that he was into the foot-long piece of iron.  

Leik did not feel the hairs on his arms singe as the iron glowed white hot.  In the weakness of release, he allowed himself to squint against the glaring white light that leapt from the end of the rod.  He raised the eye of the rod a few inches, then drove with all his might into the floor of the bedrock beneath him. Like a hot knife into cheese, the rod slid easily into the ground below – sizzling and spitting as it went.  Leik buried the rod up to the edge of the eye, a full eight inches into solid rock.

The world dissolved into unknowing.

 


Excerpt from “Crumb’s Plan”

The man in black strode to the table.  A small handkerchief appeared from a fold within is shirt, and the man swabbed the inside of each of the mugs.  He took a small blade from his belt and sliced a wax seal from the cork of the bottle.  Then he carefully poured some liquid into each cup and set the bottle down on the table.

Eck sensed a command in the posture of the man, and made his way to the table.  The man nodded and smiled, and handed a cup to Eck.  He then turned and took the other back to the small candle against the far wall.

“I am called Pak.  This is not who I am, only how I am called here.”  He said in a clear voice.  He looked down at his cup and took a small sip.  With his face still down, he looked up at Eck from behind his eyebrows and nodded.  “We have our drink, now,” he said in command.  Even the hint of his smile had evaporated.

Eck bent his head and sniffed at the dark liquid in the mug.  He smelled the bite of alcohol, tempered with a slight tone of honey, and some herbs he couldn’t place.  Gingerly, he took a sip from the mug.  The drink burned as he swallowed, lighting his throat with a fire.  Eck sputtered and coughing, bringing derisive laughter from Jeb and Bill.  Eck’s tongue and teeth had a strange feeling to them, as if they were coated with a numbing substance.  The sides of his tongue tingled, and he could feel his sinuses open.  He blinked several times and gathered his breath.  Eck took another sip, as much to ease his tension in the silence as to appease Pak.

With on a slight turn of his head, Pak addressed the two thugs sitting at the table, “The time is now that the two should not be here.  I will to be speaking with this man alone now.”

“Oy,” began Jeb before Bill could stop him.  “You said we’s gonna get our turn at ‘im.”  Jeb rose to face the dark figure lurking near the back wall.  His shoulders swayed noticeably – he had obviously been drinking for some time.  Bill reached out and grabbed Jeb by the forearm.  With a twist, Jeb threw off Bill’s steadying hand and took a few steps towards Pak.

Pak tilted his head like an animal examining an unfamiliar plant.  His face showed no sign of anger, no sign of emotion at all.  With a slight furrowing of his brow, he made a small sign with the fingers of his left hand.

Jeb fell to his knees, the blow shaking the small table before Bill.  He arched his back and threw his head back in agony.  With his arms held out near either side of his thighs, Jeb screamed a silent scream.  Pak took another sip from his mug and walked over towards Bill and Jeb.

Bill tried to stand, but only succeeded in clumsily falling backwards from his chair towards Eck and the fireplace.  The bottle on the table fell, and the drink inside spilled onto the floor, covering Jeb’s knees.


Digir An

I chose an eternity of this.  I chose an eternity of the velvety, silky darkness that now surrounds me. Sometimes there is a tiny flicker of light, that pinpoint in the blackness around me.  Vast eons of time are birthed and die like great mountains of being between their appearance, but sometimes there is somthing.  I can look at the light, and touch it.  It is like a small grain of light, a tight dot of cold energy frozen into a speck.  I always look for the light to shine on my hands, to highlight the ridges of the prints on my palm, and to give the sharp contrast of shadow to the folds.  But, I never see my hands.  I never see anything of myself.  I’m not sure if the light is frozen, or if I no longer have hands upon which it might shine.

 

Now I push those thoughts out of my head as soon as they start to form.  I used to dwell on the ideas, probe what I knew and try to determine Truth.  But that takes forever.  Literally forever.  Truth is as Truth is, and it fills the horizon of infinity.  If I try to comprehend it all, the light goes out.  There is a slight inhalation almost, as the light grows imperceptibly brighter, then a soft sigh, and the light is no more.

 

When I am waiting for the lights, I am convinced that this is all that I am.  I have become waiting – the impatient longing of desire personified.  I am a hopeless emotion that is self-aware, breathing and seething, and waiting for something.  For anything.  There, I am truly outside of time, as I chose.  Time is as a vast night sea, churning invisibly outside of the little boat of my consciousness.  I cannot  touch it, nor interact with it, but I know of it.  I know that it is, and that things are contained within it.  But I am separated from those things by a chasm that can I cannot cross at will.

 

In those rare occasions when eternity pauses, when a wave breaks with a special urgency, the gap is bridged.  Once again I know time.  Once again I can taste causality.  Those sharp angles of law, those brittle edges of the jewel of time press against what should be my hand, and the little light rests before me.  At first, I saw nothing in the brief span of life of the light.  I knew only the soft, cold glow before me – pure white and unblemished until it evaporated. But now, now I can see the light as it grows.  I am still on the far side of time, and it is as the strange echoes of a language that I no longer speak.   But the memory of it tugs at me.

 

I know the light is within time.  The thought of it makes me smile.  And here, in this place, that smile runs eternal and infinite.  When I again become aware of the light, i feel that I am myself radiant, and that all that is contained within that glowing speck is aware of my brightness, even a I watch its luster.  I cradle this morsel of existence, and pour into it all that I am become, and we are together as one for an age.  For me, this is eternal, my choice.  Inside that grain, time unfolds and grows and flutters.  Inside, one event brings about another from beginning to end.  But there is a beginning and an end.  Perhaps it is circular, on the inside.  It is a question that has no real meaning in the timeless dark.  I understand of their beginning, and their end, just as I understand that for me, there is no beginning, and no end.

 

I chose an eternity of this, an eternity of eternities – each completely defined by emotion.  Eternity of solitude, communion of the selfless-self, outside and apart completely, forever.  And, eternity within time – eternity swallowed by the soft glow of self-awareness of infinite, insignificant selves.  An eternity of inclusion of those selves within my own, a broken mirror reflection of time-bound consciousness, and timelessness unending.

 

There was never really a choice.


Intro to Arachan

The afternoon before the battle, Tuomo brought the troops together.  

“Men,” he said.  His face was stern as he projected his voice to the twenty seven gathered around a small patch of boulders.  The group was gathered on the west side of the outcropping, the river a mile behind them, the forest half a mile to the east.  “Boys,” he said, his face breaking into a grin.  The men laughed and nudged each other.  “Tonight we take the forest.  Tonight we show these beasts that the serpents are not like the soft meat that the army has thrown at them so far.”  The men cheered with bravado.  “We are twenty-eight against countless.  But we are serpents, cold and deadly.  Tonight, we strike for the queen.”  

The men rattled sword against shield and began to chant with a low growl.  “Serpent” they said to each other.  “Serpent,” the chorus rose, gaining in volume at each repetition.  Finally, as if on some unseen cue, the entire band yelled in a voiceless roar at the sky.

A hush came over the group as a woman mounted the rocks where Tuomo stood.  She climbed to the top with perfect balance, her hands clasped beneath her crimson robes.  Standing next to Tuomo, she turned her face to look at him.  With a reverant bow, he stepped to the side, yielding his posiiton.

The woman nodded to him, and touched her thumb to her chin.  She stood tall atop the rock and looked out over the men.  “Serpents.  This battle is not yours,” she said, her voice carrying over the men.  “This battle is not the queen’s.”  The men muttered to each other.    Arachan looked to Tuomo.  The lieutenant looked away quickly – his face dark.  Arachan looked back to the woman as she continued.

“This battle is for the Mother, and for Her land.  She claims this forest as Her own.  You are Her elite, trained in battle and fire to serve, and to survive.”  The men were silent, as all eyes stared at the crimson figure.  The sunset behind her painted the sky in reds and oranges.  She seemed to be a part of the sky itself as she spoke to them.  “In all battles, there is the whisper of death.  In this battle, death is promised.”  Arachan felt a shudder down his spine.  This was the Mother’s Kiss – the soldier’s irreverent name for a form of last rites handed down before a battle.  The serpents had fought before.  They had vanquished insurmountable foes, broken defenses to crush the beseiged.  The men had burned and conquered.  None of them had witnessed the Mother’s Kiss.  It had been legend during training.  Instructors did not teach this.  Informally, the men knew of the Kiss, but officially, it was never mentioned.

“Men, tonight you are not your fellow’s brother.  Tonight you are not your queen’s guard.  Tonight, you are the Mother’s will.  Tonight, you are the extension of Her power.  Tonight you bring Her judgement onto her foes.”  The men stared, transfixed as the words spilled over them.  Time raced past at the woman spoke, though the men were not aware of it.  The sky darkened as the sun slipped below the horizon.

As if awakening from a trance, Arachan noticed that the faces of the rocks were lit with the bright yellow flare of fire.  He turned to look behind him.  On either side of a large banquet table was a roaring bonfire.  The wood was stacked higher than a man stood, and burned with an eager flame.  Embers rose into the night sky, fading to black against the dark sky.

The light of the fires lit the tables, the food laden there cast deep, flickering shadows.  Aracahn saw a feast laid before him.  All kinds of foods were arranged on the spread.  He saw fowl, roasted and dressed with vegetables, silver bowls of cold soups, loaves of bread of various shapes and sizes.  The serpents made their way slowly to the fare laid out before them.  A group of red robed figures began to walk among them, inclining shaved heads and offering goblets of diluted, herbed wine.

In several bounds, Tuomo leaped his way down to stand next to Arachan.  He took a cup from one of the priests and stared at it, an unbelieving smile stretching across his face.  “But how is this?” he asked, as much to Arachan as any other.

“Behold, the bounty of the Mother,” the woman is scarlet said laying  a hand on Tuomo’s shoulder.  With her other hand she offered a cup to Arachan.  “Feast, and be strengthened.”  she told them.  Working her way through the men to the feast table, she said aloud, “perhaps some music for the Mother?”  At this, two of the priests – a tall thin man, and a slender woman – produced instruments and began to play.  The man sat on a hollowed log covered with a stretched animal skin. His head shone in the firelight as he bent to beat the drum.  The woman plucked at a small stringed instrument, whether made of wood or metal, Arachan could not see.

“But this food, this drink?” Arachan asked.  None of the platoon ate or drank.  Instead they stood, eager, waiting for their lieutenant to steer them.  Some rubbed their eyes, as if waking early from vivid dreams.  The beat of the drum carried through the night air, a slow procession.  The woman’s voice sounded far away, as if she were singing from across the plain, and the men were hearing only the echo coming back from the face of the western mountains.

“Lieutentnat,” the woman said, approaching in a half-dance.  “Have your men eat, and drink.  The Mother commands it.”  She took the cup from his hands and drank it back in one pull.  “You will all join the fight soon enough, when the time is right.  For now, your men will drink and dance.  Now is the time for boasts and vows.  Now is the time for brotherhood and strength.  Tomorrow, you will all dine in the house of the Mother.”  Her voice was hypnotic.  Commanding and serene, yet stirring.

Tuomo took back the cup she offered.  One of the priests refilled the cup with the dark, fragrant draught.  Tuomo lifted the cup above his head.  As if on cue, the music stopped.  He stood there in silence as the men gathered around him.  “Men,” he said to the group.  The men standing around him raised their cups, feeling a moment growing.  “Men,” Tuomo said again.  “Nay, serpents,” he said.  “Honor. Courage.  Loyalty” he cried.

Arachan looked into his lieutenant’s eyes, “Clear mind  Alert mind. Balanced mind” he yelled with the men in response to Tuomo.  As one, every man in the platoon emptied his cup.  With a large grin that was echoed on Tuomo’s face, Arachan tilted his head back and yelled “Serpents, serpents, serpents” with the rest.

The drumming priest began again, now joined by several others who had set aside their serving pitchers.  The remaining priest, including the woman in scarlet, began to dance around and between the fires.  Arachan felt the liqueur working its way into his blood.  His heart beat to the rythym of the drummers, his head bobbed in time.  The night around him began to fade as the rallying beat of the drums carried him on.  The sky, the grass, the food – all of it faded in his sight.  Even as the world lost importance, the faces of his brothers became sharper, more focused.  Arachan grasped arms with many of the men, smiling broad and sincere at each of them.

As the night wore on, the commeradie grew stronger between the men.  Arachan felt his fellows as extensions of himself.  The men were no longer speaking, no longer smiling.  Arachan saw his breath as a thick cloud leave his mouth in the chill air.  He flexed his hands, feeling the leather of his gloves stretch against the changing shape of his fist.  He longed to stretch his legs.  The men around him were restless, some cracking knuckles, some bouncing on the balls of their feet.  The music had stopped, and Arachan could not see any of the priests.  Only the embers of the fires remaining, hissing softly in the descending dew.  

In the absence of the music, the sound of metal against metal sounded, shrill and cold.  Arachan touched his thumb to his chin, and took off his helmet.  Kneeling to place it on the ground, he began to prepare himself for the fight ahead.  On one knee, he checked his boot, looping a leather thong around his calf.  He switched to kneel on his other knee to check his other boot.  In this position, he lengthened each leg to loosen the muscles.

With both knees on the ground, he felt each cuisse, felt the dense metal beneath the supple black leather.  His fingers traced the rough pattern of the snake on each, stopping at the point of the hilt of the sword at his waist.  He stood and bent deep at the waist, stretching his hamstrings.  With his head bowed, head ran his fingers over the steel scales sewn to his leather tunic.  He looked at the yellow and green paint on the interlocking scales, feeling the cold of the steel guarding his chest.  

He bent again at the waist to pick up his helmet. As he raised it to his head, he touched his chin with his thumb one last time and placed the steel cap on his head.  The nasal pushed him from the open plain into the familiar cage of focus that he felt during battle.  The black line it cast in his vision would fade as his mind forgot about the armor, and knew only of dealing rage.

Finally, he drew his sword from its scabbard.  In the dark of the night, it was a dull gray line pointing from his closed fist to the heavens.  He stared at the blade in silence for a moment, mutter the serpents creed to himself, “Honor.  Courage.  Loyalty.  Clear mind.  Alert mind.  Balanced mind.”  

Ready for what lay ahead, Arachan looked around him.  The rest of the platoon were in various stages of preparedness.  Some were kneeling in prayer to the Mother, some testing the edge of sword or axe. The heightened awareness from earlier remained in his mind, not diminished.  If anything, Arachan felt his focus sharpen.  He felt the serpents not as a group of individuals, but as a collective unit.  The were become a Serpent, ready to strike for their queen, ready to die for their Mother.

Without a word spoken, the men set off at a fast walk across the plain.  They made no sound as boots struck against the soft earth of the plain.  The darkness of the forest loomed before them, blending the feet of the western mountains with the flat grass of the plain.  With each mile, the darkness loomed larger, and the serpents moved faster.  As he approached, Arachan’s focus deepened.  He did not merely see the forest as a collection of trees, but rather he perceived each tree as a living thing.  The order of the forest, blazed out to him.  Tree sheltered moss, grass held stone.  He felt the animals, smelled their fear at his approach.  He also felt a deeper fear flowing from the forest.  There was a fear of something that did not belong, something that broke the natural order of the world.  A fierce anger rose within him.  His will was swallowed in a greater will to cleanse a blight on the world, on all that was.  The anger grew and boiled into an uncontrollable rage.  Arachan’s heart ached to destroy and cleave.  He heard himself growling, even as his fellow serpents growled.

The platoon spread into a wide line, where each man was only barely visible to his nearest neighbor.  Arachan felt them all, from Tuomo to his immediate left, to the last man on either end of the line.  He felt their anger echoing his own.  When they hit the tree line, then men began to spring into the darkness of the forest, a burning spray of hot, angry death.


An Object of Wonder

This is from an online course I am taking, How Writers Write Fiction 2015, offered through the University of Iowa.  The fiurst assignment is to

” find an ordinary object in your home that you like looking at. This could be a sugar bowl, a crooked lampshade, a spoon with a bent handle, a tiled coffee table with a matador theme, a remote control … the choice is yours, but choose something that stirs your wonder. Write a description that brings it to life: show it to us as if it were the main character in a new story.”

Here’s my entry.  Comment if you have an idea of what it is.

 

Before I was, the world spun without me.  I was created through fire, smelted from the ores of a thousand stars, and cloaked in a brilliance born in the very core of this earth.  Yet though I was made, life had not yet been breathed into my form.  Before I left my cradle, I was charged with energy and power to control the universe.

I am beyond humanity, beyond life.  My kind was before life.  Our ancestors were multitude before the gas clouds of the Bang cooled into planets and stars.  My fathers’ fathers live on in the cold vastness  – immense thoughts that churn space and time.  My own father was less than I.  He was cut from a lesser cloth, though in his time he fought and served among the best and brightest.  I hold more in my one hand than he could have ever grasped.

My deepest desire is for company.  I wish to be with those around me and to know them.  In fact, I am not a self-aware being.  I am, rather, a collective.  I am the agreement of countless parts to align together.  We dance as a unit, casting our song to those who draw near – a siren’s net looking for sailors with a musical ear.  But, that is how I view myself.  Looking out from within, we are a collection of thoughts.

I cannot grow.  I cannot evolve to a higher state through learning or experience.  That mutability is reserved for life, and for thoughts of a more metaphysical bent than my own.  I can work.  I can serve.  I can be unmade – broken and drained.  But though I break, though I pass through flame, I can be remade.

For most, I am my shell.  I am the reflection of light in polished nickel.  I am the warm, white hue with which I recast that light.  To some, I am magic.  I can act at a distance, loving or hating my brethren.  I am stronger than gravity, and my invisible song sings to steel and nickel and cobalt.  Children know me and accept my song intuitively.  To those who do not question what is unseen, I am the tool that can touch through stone or wood or water.

I have many friends, and I feel them across the distance.  We dance together in the larger song spun by this planet.  Those of my friends charged like me are passionate lovers and vehement haters.  I will love one when we are united together, and hate him in the next breath as he turns to leave.  But when we touch, when our song is united, we are inseparable.  We race together to embrace, exhaling energy through the air around us until, from a distance, we are indistinguishable.


White runner scene etude

Rain pattered in the dark outside the small building.  Islands of frightened humanity shone from the light of a handful of flickering candles.  The flames licked at the eyes of the children, and accentuated the dark circles under the eyes of their parents.  Dom handed the stub of a candle to his wife, and kissed his sleeping daughter on her head.  He looked at his wife and looked for words to pass comfort.  She was frightened – frightened for her husband, and her flock, but mostly for her children.  Dom could not think of the words to say.  He knew that if he tried, he would break and end with an awkward sob.

Instead he stood and began to make his way to the front of the church.  He navigated his steps, working hard not to wake the huddled forms in the dark.  The small children and their mothers had been moved into the smaller rooms at the back of the building.  It was quieter back here, and the children were more at home.

Dom passed the small cooking area.  He nodded at the casual guard installed to preserve their provision for as long as they could  At least until Joe arrived with more supplies.  As it was, there was not much more – even on tight rations.  Fifty people ate much more than he would have believed possible.  And, when people eat – well, the rooms set aside as latrines were overflowing already.  Someone had hung spare blankets across the entry in a poor attempt at blocking the odors.

A flash of light shone through the gap in the barricades set up against the windows in the front of the building.  Dom flinched as a peal of thunder followed the lightning.  Thunderstorms were rare in late winter, though this winter had been anything but usual.  The smell of ozone flowed into the building, and Dom pulled his collar closer to his neck against the chill.

 

As Dom made his way to the front of the church, he paused to take in the beauty of the scene before him.  Slumped against the door were the forms of a newly wed couple.  Matt had his arm around his bride, her head nestled against his chest.  She was asleep, breathing softly while her husband looked at her face in the dim light of a still candle flame.  He stroked her hair, examining each piece as if for the first time.  Dom noted the beauty of the scene.  Even here, in the midst of this tragedy and darkness, the Mother afforded peace to her children.  He murmured a small prayer of thanksgiving.

Matt looked up at Dom.  Their eyes met, small twinkling spaces in a vast darkness.  Before all of this, Dom and Matt had not been close.  Their paths had never really crossed in a significant way.  They had been acquaintances and nothing more.  But darkness has a way of uniting people.  Through the flames of their suffering, they had become brothers.

Joe had been gone for at least a day when the first had died.  The next was not long in coming.  Dom had stepped in – a reluctant leader in the absence of a true shepherd.  Matt was the first and strongest support for Dom that first day.  Their bond started there.  It had continued as duties rose to claim more and more of Dom’s attention.

For a second time, Dom was at a loss for words.  He looked to Matt, wishing for a way to thank him, to express gratitude.  More than that, Dom wanted to be comforted himself.  He was no leader, and was as frightened as the rest of the believers huddled against the fear.

Matt and Jaime leapt to their feet as a jolt rattled the barricade across the front door.  Dom took a step in front of the couple as the door rattled again.  A weak voice from the toerh side cried out,

“For the sake of the Mother, open the doors”.

Dom looked at Matt.  His pulse beat hard against his neck.  He stroked his beard, his breath fast.  Matt and Jaime stared at the door.  Jaime rubbed the sleep from her eyes.  She look as if she was trying to figure where she was, and what his noise was.  Dom wondered himself.

Matt grabbed a leg broken from one of the tables used in the barricade.  He brandished it as a club and took a step in front of Jaime and Dom.

The voice cried out again. “Please” it sobbed, “please, open the door.  Open the fucking door!”

Dom looked from the door to Matt again, but both Matt and Jaime were focusing their attention on the door.

“It’s Bren.  Let me in, damn it.  Let me in”

Now Matt looked at Dom.  Dom tasted the name Bren.  Somewhere in his mind that meant something.  The fear was so tight, so strong that Dom could not place the name.  He couldn’t think at all.   Another flash of lightning painted the scene with white hot confusion.  The thunder sounded outside as the person outside threw themselves against the door.  The door and barricade rocked from the impact.

Clarity pierced the fear and the darkness.  Dom leaped past Matt and reach for the door.  Matt grabbed his arm, restraining Dom at the last moment.

“No, Dom.  No.”  Matt said.

“It’s Bren.”  Dom said, “It’s Bren.  We’ve got to let him in.”

“What if he’s one of them?”  MAtt asked.

Dom’s stomach clenched in fear.  He swallowed hard.  His heart raced and his palms were clammy.  What if the rumors were true?

The door shook again with less force than before.  The voice outside was barely audible.

 

“Please,” it sobbed, “please let me in”

Dom moved to the door again, pushing Matt aside.  “We have to let him in”

“But,” MAtt began.

“Butt nothing,” Dom turned and looked into Matt’s eyes “The Mother will protect us.  We act in love, and the Mother will protect us.  There is no but”.

Matt’s eyes dropped down, his features lost in the darkness outside the reach of the candle.  Dom threw aside a brace and began to slide the door open.  A wet cold rain raced in through the gap as a dark form spilled onto the floor of the foyer.  The wet wind blew out the single candle and plunged them into darkness complete.

Matt and Jaime moved and slid the door shut again.  Jaime slid the brac into place as Matt piled furniture back against the door.

 

“Jaime, go light the candle again,” Dom said.  Jaime left as Dom crouched down to the man on the floor.  “Bren.  Bren, are you ok?  Where’s Joe?  Bren?”  Dom shook Bren’s shoulder.

“He’s gone.  They’re all gone.  Everyone.” Bren began.  Jaime returned with the candle.  Bren was staring into space, his mind far away.  His gaze flicked back to Dom, “Joe’s dead.  I killed him”  Bren turned his head away and sobbed.

Matt looked at Dom, the fear in his eyes contagious.  Dom saw Matt’s chest rise, saw the club raise.

“What do you mean you killed him?  Bren.  Bren, what happened out there?  What did you see?”  But Bren was gone again.  His eyes had glazed over.  He mumbled to himself.  Dom could not hear what he said.

Dom needed information.  Bren and Joe had left days ago.  The went to look for food, and to find out what was happening.  Joe was hoping to find help, and to give help – shepherd that he was.  Bren had gone along as muscle, and, Dom suspected, to avoid the aggravation of waiting in the silent dark.  Bren had a family – a wife and a daughter.  There were so many daughters in the church.

 

“Bren, your family needs you,” Dom said, keeping his tone pleading.  He spoke as he would speak to a child – gentle yet firm.  “Bren, come back to us”

Moments passed.  Bren blinked several times in the dim light of the candle. He licked his lips and turned to look at Dom as if he had decided something.

“They’re ok, my family?”  Bren began.  Dom nodded.  “They took Joe.” he continued “It’s dark how they do it.  I had to kill him.  It’s the only way to stop them.  Joe wanted me to do it.  Joe begged me to do it.  And I did it.  I killed him.  MOther help me, I held his hand as he went. “

“I was alone.  It’s dark out there.  They’re smart, smarter than we are.  They waited.  I think they enjoyed the hunt.  They pushed me where they wanted me to go.  I think they followed me”  Bren looked at Dom, tears in his eyes.  “I think they wanted me to come here.” He spoke in a whisper.  “They’re coming here”

 


Intro to J

I had been one of the wanderers. Not one of the early pilgrims. We never heard from them after they had gone. It was new, and somewhat terrifying in those earliest days. Things changed so quickly – too quickly for most of us. We had forgotten that we had risen out of apocalypse brought on by Science digging further than Wisdom would have seen fit. We had so much energy. It was everywhere. It was cheap. That changed our possibilities. Once again, our ability outpaced out wisdom.

The first wave of pilgrims had no alignment. It was not a collective group with a unified mission. There were scientists, zealots, and mad tinkers. They were united in possibility and in the bubbling excitement of those days. Over the first few years, tens of thousands leapt out from what we had known into the vastness of the infinite night. In that eager folly we split space and time, daring to cross the one at the expense of the other. Our naivety could not fathom the unified nature of these two, of space and time.

In droves we rode across our quaint spacetime concept – or rather through it. In droves we crossed the wrong boundaries. None of those pilgrims returned. Not even a whisper of their passing. Our navigation was based on a failed paradigm. They never found their way home. They never would.

We slowed. In fear and doubt we reconfigured, reexamined, and retooled. We saw that we had been wrong. Wrong on so many counts. The paths we blazed into the sky lead outward only. The paths that had endings and beginnings demanded so much more than we had ever imagined, even in the height of our glut.

Still, we found a way.

More cautiously, we made newer, shorter excursions. We bent and folded what we could to move beyond the bounds of what we knew. We moved without leaving, without going Outside. Then we came back. We left searching, and we came back. Alone..

Our most pressing question, the burn that fueled our fire had always asked, “Are we alone?” Each voyage and every voyager carried the spirit our that era in their hope. We were all searching for someone else, anyone else. We were searching for ourselves in that time.

We never found anything.


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