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The sun was brutal this season, rising as it was from the house of Juth, an occurrence that transpired every one-hundred-and-sixty-two circuits of Nengath’s Chariot. It always foretold struggle, and this time it was no different as the rains had not come to refresh the oases; but that was not all.
Aras k’an Thril surveyed lands that were not his as his leathered-skin shell beat back the burning rays. The Juroikar had come, as they always did when the people and the land were afflicted by deprivation, somehow sensing weakness as though it were a scent, or a beacon for their atrocities. Yet, he was not unprepared; he had studied the histories and consulted the star-seers, unlike those before him. The Devotes of Ytisa had been ridiculed in the past by the Ghari tribes as charlatans, practitioners of false omens, and sometimes slain during the dark times when the ways had become forgotten. But Aras had embraced them, needing the wisdom of their visions.
Many Ghari had been put to the sword in his conquest of unification, but those that remained were his and would follow his direction. They were the elite; the strength in his arm and without them all else would be surely doomed. He had won them and he would wield them like a great spear, stabbing at the heart of his enemy. Once he had become Uthara of the Ghari, neighboring peoples such as the Bolokur, Ostyeni, and Pe’elan had come readily to his banner; a united Ghari was not a foe any of them were prepared to face.
Aras turned to his Shatrah, sitting astride her beast like a queen upon her throne, “Escah, tell me, am I fortuned this day?”
She stared vacantly out over the expanse, seeing the camp situated in the dead-space of the Illari wash. “Aye, my Uthara, but only slightly. Field your forces wisely or else victory will slip through your grasp. The field is even, but your vision is greater. The commander you face is but a stripling, yet his forces are quick and determined… and there is something else I cannot determine. Indirectness is your ally.”
“Your vision matches my thoughts, Escah. Fortune will indeed be with us this day. Your advice is a blessing on my heart.”
The Shatrah of Aras looked at him then, her fiery hair bound by many bands, but her piercing, almond eyes unrestrainable; unafraid of the judgment of her Uthara. “When we are one, then Ytisa guarantees the rightness of our actions. Victory is ours.”
A flicker of mirth glinted in his grey eyes as he regarded his stately, stoic Shatrah. “If such is the case, Escah, then perhaps a smile can cross your lips for once in the time that I have known you. Your beauty can only be enhanced by it.”
In her typical fashion, Escah lowered her eyes to him, for she was a tall woman, and remarked, “Beauty is arbitrary; the way of Ytisa is paramount.”
Aras sighed good-naturedly, flicking an imaginary speck off of his hardened leather armor. “Ah, Escah, you break men’s hearts.”
He thought for an illusory moment that he saw a flicker of a smile as she responded, “Men are weak.”
“Truer words have never been spoken, especially in the presence of the likes of you. Tell me then, how is one to free a caged demon such as you? Am I to walk the fire-plains of Durel? I would do this.”
At this she sighed resignedly, never shifting her gaze from Aras, for in truth, she found him compelling. “Uthara,” she began, “you have a battle to wage and my duty is to Ytisa. I am of the chaste. The desires of the flesh hold no influence over me.”
“Hah! I say, hah! Your blood boils as all Qa’reni do, and yours more than most, I dare to say. But, you are right; there is a battle to be fought, and my fantasies of what secrets your barusa holds will have to wait for another day. However, make no mistake, I value your words.”
“Yours too, Uthara, I value, for there is truth and strength in them.”
“And do not forget that I see how you have not answered my question. I will get my answer.”
“As I have commanded before, you may call me Aras, as we are in a sense, equals.”
He sensed amusement in her eyes as she locked her gaze with his. “No, Uthara, I may not. The service of Ytisa prohibits it. And you may never command me, as you well know.”
Aras studied her again, following her long legs that rested comfortably in the stirrups of her Klath; noting how spectacularly her emerald tunic fit her body, and the way she sat so comfortably in the saddle. He was a man that got his women, and yet she was so unreachable to him; so incorruptible in her devotion to Ytisa.
“Shatrah, will you ride beside me in battle?”
She hid her shock at this request, for only the Uthara’s most trusted arm was given this honor. Each time it might be a different soldier, depending on the exploits of the previous battle, but to her knowledge no Devote to Ytisa had ever been offered this position
Escah swallowed hard as she contemplated the consequences of her decision and the chance to bring respect to her order. “I would be honored, Uthara. My blade is yours,” she invoked the traditional acceptance.
“Your blade is my shield,” Aras responded in the traditional manner. His offer was no idle offer to gain her interest. The Devotes of Ytisa were also women of the sword as theirs was a Goddess of Wisdom, War and Healing. They could hold their own as well as any of the peoples of the Qa’reni, save the Ghari. He had seen her fight and trusted her blade.
Aras turned his reptilian Klath around and headed back towards their concealed camp, Escah followed, glancing back once more towards the enemy. Something bothered her and she could not figure it out.
“Tarseg!” Aras called as he passed the sentry into the minimal camp. There were no tents up, only small lean-tos to provide shade as this was a battle camp.
“Uthara, coming!” Tarseg responded trotting over to his leader, then taking a knee as he rested his hand on the Klath’s snout; a sign of respect and trust.
A Klath was highly attuned to its rider and would bite the arm off of anybody it sensed its rider disliked or mistrusted, or even sensed for itself some danger to its master. For Tarseg to offer his arm in this matter meant he was no threat. Only Ghari rode Klath and those the Uthara favored, such as the Shatrah of Ytisa.
Aras regarded his top Ghari commander a moment before issuing him orders. “Take three Hreqarra once the light fades to the east end of the Illari wash; our enemy seeks to remain hidden from us there. Have Ughayr take one Hreqar to the west end.”
“Four Hreqqarra, Uthara? A thousand riders?” He asked surprised. “That will only leave you with two Hreqarra and the rest of that rabble that call themselves warriors. You can’t hope to assault with that!”
“Yes, as you have noted, it is not enough, that is because you will be the main assault. Ughayr will be the first feint, I will be the second, but I hope they will think I am the main. Once I have their forces turned and drawn out, then you will attack.”
“You honor me greatly, my Uthara-as you command!” He brought his fist to his chest and bowed.
“You honor me with your skill and tactics, and have earned this glory.”
“Each is to take a Devote with them,” Escah added before he left, “so we can communicate the orders, as I will be the honored sword in tomorrow’s battle and will know the time.”
A brief look of surprise flitted across Tarseg’s face. “As you wish, Shatrah!” He sped away to make preparations.
“Wise counsel, my Shatrah, but then, that is why I have you.” Aras had not discussed that with Escah, but what he had researched and learned at the Sanctum, and what the rest of the Ghari had trouble accepting, was that in the Time of Juth, the Uthara and the Shatrah were to become as one voice, one authority.
Aras smiled to himself. He held a secret that he had also learned in his studies, one that he would keep to himself until the appropriate time came, and then he would share it with Escah.
A Freedom’s breath
from the brink of death,
so narrowly saved
from lefties depraved,
promoting a craven woman.
with no regret,
the man before
is leader no more,
far greater is the nation.
His legacy removed,
the economy since improved;
his legacy jaded,
the “greatness” faded,
America great again.
The greatness of me
has not been foreseen
by the great books of old
with prophecies foretold;
I do not understand
how Nostradamus did not brand
my name in his pages
to be read through the ages;
it is baffling and vexing
my absence perplexing
in ink and in spirit
I’ve been given no merit;
so great is my Id
with nothing I did,
I came across an elf one day
who happened across my forest way,
well actually, as it happened to be,
he dangled down from the limb of a tree.
With his feet up high and his head down low
I felt compelled to stop and not go.
I looked at him, he looked at me,
he looked at me and made a decree:
“I am the Elf of Lorilum,
I’d like to know from whence you come!”
I had never heard of this Lorilum place,
but I looked into his oval elf face.
I told him I came from the Land of Was
and Was, as it happens, is “did” and not “does.”
You see, I explained perhaps too fast,
everything we do is done in the past.
He dropped to the ground to land on his feet,
then looked at me and gritted his teeth,
he looked down again and said with a blurt-
“How can that be? that can’t possibly work!”
Of course it can, I tried to explain,
I started to walk and with me he came.
It’s really quite simple, I’ll tell you, you’ll see,
since we do in the past, the present is free.
We have all the time in the world to play
because everything was done just yesterday.
The elf he stopped and looked at me,
he frowned his face and tapped his knee;
“If I am to understand you right,
I may not, but I just might,
today you played and had your fun
and this little walk is already done.”
I smiled at him and nodded and said,
I think you got it, but I knew you did,
because this already happened in the Land of Was
and Was as it happens is “did” and not “does.”
The elf he stood, then he sat, then he thought,
and mulled in his mind the answer he sought.
Suddenly he rose and declared “I must go!”
“But surely,” he winked, “you must already know!”
So off he ran so spritely and quick,
away and away before a tock could go tick.
He appeared to me, my little elf friend,
at a place on my path, just where it bends.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me astray,
to sit by an oak and speak of the day.
This is peculiar, I said with a fright,
this hasn’t happened yesterday or last night.
“I know,” he said with a keen little grin,
a twinkle in his eye and a thrust of his chin.
“It’s a gate I have magicked with spells extraordinary,
to bring you to Lorilum and the Land of the Faerie.
It lays on your path, just where it bends,
it’s magicked for you and for you it opens.”
Why you have done this, I said, I don’t know,
I have always just went and never did go.
Away he ran for me to follow,
to new experiences for a me so callow.
Never did I know what would happen that day,
not a thing, not a place that happened my way.
He took me to sing, to play, to dance;
with elves and brownies through faerie rings prance.
A thousand year old dragon he took me to see,
on that day not a thing would I know it to be.
We went to a village, just there, by the brook,
where sat an old elf reading a book.
“Fi fiddle faddle,” my elf said, “brother elf,
and fiddledy fum or maybe a felf.”
“Why yes, I did faddle a few,” the old elf said,
and faddled a fuddle, or fuddled a qued.”
“You see,” said my elf, “if you have something to say,
this is not the place to say it, they don’t speak here that way.
They speak without meaning and say not a whit,
to say something of meaning, it just wouldn’t fit.”
Yes, I said, I know what you mean,
we have place like that to which I have been.
But now I think it is time to return,
I have seen much and much I did learn.
I’m a bit overwhelmed, all of this in one day,
what it is when one does something a new way.
Back, he took me, to the gate in the road,
and out of Lorilum together we strode.
He shook my hand and bid me to go,
we’ll meet again, I told him, I know.
He winked and he smiled as he turned away,
and whispered, “I too know we’ll meet here again some day,
because this is the Land of Was,
and Was as it happens is “did” and not “does.”
I watched him sail
away from me
astride a tiny skiff
A fragile thing
or so it seems
would give in a moments grip
I watched him part
the sun-stained depths
unaware what lay beneath
I thought to myself
as he slipped from sight
did I win? Did I win?
Did I beat the angry swords of fear
and fashion his armor right?
Did I strengthen the walls of his pliant heart
not too hard and not too soft?
Did I temper the mettle of his precious soul
to bend but never break?
What measure have I for success
but to set this skiff adrift?
and hope one day he returns to me
a neatly crafted ship.
Flick peered at his image in the pool of water, spreading open his shirt at the chest to reveal his greatest mystery. What are you? He said to himself as he slowly stroked the amber colored object shaped like a ragged quarter moon that was embedded in his chest, over his heart. Dink, dink, dink, it sounded when he tapped it lightly. Whatever it was, it had been there for a while, longer than he could remember which was not really all that long. His fair skin had healed around it, creating slightly rounded edges where it met the object. All he could do was wonder at it as he could no more figure out what it was than pull it out of his chest. The thing had resisted all attempts and caused him great pain when he and others had tried.
“What are you?” He whispered aloud then slapped his hand in the water, dispersing the image. He dared not stare too long or too deep into the water, for it always brought painful images, so real seeming. He did not understand them, they scared him, and he would avoid looking at them. A sudden noise brought him to his senses. He quickly scanned around him, his ears, eyes, and nose intent on finding the source. Just as suddenly he relaxed as a big buck stepped into view. Flick smiled and walked up to the powerful creature which showed no concern at his presence.
“Hey there, big fellow!” He said, reaching out and stroking its neck, “I thought I might find you around here.” The buck bobbed its head as if in greeting. “How about a little favor? I could use a ride if you would be so willing?” The buck bobbed again and Flick took this as his cue, so he swung his lithe form onto deer’s back and grabbed the antlers at their base with both hands. “Off we go then!” He declared and the buck took off, leaping and bounding through the underbrush.
Flick had been getting the urge lately to visit Erienne, a calling really, one that he could not ignore. He did not know why until he realized her birthday was once again approaching. For as long as he could remember he would visit her on this and other occasions, watching her grow up from a little baby to where she was almost as old as he was. He knew in a couple of years she would be older than him and when that time came, he did not know what would happen– if she would even want to see him any more. But Flick, never one to dwell on “what if’s” let that thought fly away as he exhilarated in the power and speed of the buck swiftly moving through the trees. He laughed gleefully at times as it hurdled over fallen trunks or bounded playfully along.
For a whole day the two traveled together, stopping to drink at crystal streams or eat wild berries, but steadily moving southward all the while, closer to Erienne. And as dusk came, the sky burning purple and orange as the sun committed to its daily death, Flick reached the ruins. This was his haunting ground but he had been up to see the Old Man of the Mountain, as the villagers liked to call him-the Healing Hermit was another name-but Flick knew him as Daerwyn the Mage. People would travel for miles to make use of his healing magic, his potions and spells, and deny that it was anything but common remedies. Magic was to be feared. These were his, Flick’s ruins, and his home just a few miles from Erienne.
In the failing light of day and again at the first weak rays of a born-again sun, Flick could see almost as if it were real, the once great castle that stood there, its proud walls and prouder people, and then it would fade away leaving him with an oddly aching heart. He did not know why, but he was comfortable here, secure. It was not just a place he made his home, it felt like home in a way he could not understand. Flick slid off the stag’s back and gave a friendly pat.
“Good ride my friend. Surely there is not a more magnificent creature of this forest than you.” The great buck appeared to puff its chest out with pride as Flick told it this. “You have done me a great service and I shall repay you when you have need.” The stag bobbed its head one last time while pawing the ground then turned and dashed off into the trees.
Now that his friend was gone, Flick noticed something was not quite right, something was different. He extended his senses out once again, but could not find the source of what was troubling him. Cautiously he moved through the rubble, one light step after another; his eyes, as keen as an owl’s at night, peered into shadowy corners, but did not find a thing. After an hour of slinking around the extensive ruins, Flick stopped.
“Ah well,” he said to no one in particular, “it must be my imagination.” Just then he realized that his dink-as he called it but Daerwyn called it a talisman-was throbbing slightly in his chest. He looked down and could see a faint amber glow that pulsed in time with the throbbing, something that had never happened before. “Curious,” he said, sitting down on a fallen stone to watch it and becoming disappointed shortly thereafter when it faded out. He tapped at it with his finger, but nothing happened. He sighed and let his shirt fall back into place, but he did feel somewhat more energized than usual.
As he lay back on the warm stone and watched the stars appear one by one in the darkening sky, Flick’s mind turned to the Mage, Daerwyn, vividly recalling the last, odd encounter he had had with his beloved friend. Daerwyn’s normally serene face and excited blue eyes, framed by a magnificently long, white beard and bushy mustache, were scrunched up with worry. His thick eyebrows furrowed in thought as his eyes darted furtively from place to place as they talked.
“What is wrong, Master Daerwyn?” Flick had asked upon his arrival, noticing the agitation in his friend.
“Oh nothing,” he responded, managing to cast a wan smile in Flick’s direction as he mixed liquids from one vial into another. “No, no, nothing at all.”
“If that’s the case, then why are you jumping around like a mouse in a room full of cats?” Flick inquired, idly rolling an empty vial between his fingers.
“Didn’t sleep well, didn’t sleep well at all,” he muttered, holding the two vials up to the light as he poured an equal amount of liquid from one vial to the other so that they were even. “Please, if you will, come here and give me a drop of your blood.”
“Because I asked you, now don’t dawdle the timing must be precise.” Flick scuttled over to the Mage who handed him a needle. “Now, do as I do as I do it. Prick your right thumb only.” They pricked their thumbs at the same time over the vials. “Three drops only.” Daerwyn snatched the vials away on the third drop and stuck them in a dark cubbyhole.
“What happens now?” Flick asked, his curiosity getting a hold of him.
“Nothing? Then why did we do it?”
“There is a shaft leading up from that cubbyhole and in three days time the full moon will pass directly over it, completing the potion.”
“What will it do?”
“It does not matter,” the Mage waved his hand absently, “you will be gone by then. Gone, gone, yes gone.”
“I will?” Flick asked, somewhat hurt. “I thought I might visit for a while. You do not want me to stay?”
Suddenly Daerwyn became focused again, more like himself. “It is not what I want, young Master Flick, it is a matter of what you must do. I would have you stay forever, but that is a choice neither you nor I can make.” His shoulders slumped and a tired hand went to his forehead as if to rub his troubled mind.
“You have seen something then?”
“Yes, but I do not as yet understand it, the stars and omens seem… confused, and I have spent the last few days without sleep trying to sort it out.” His mellow voice was laced with strain and weariness.
“Then I will stay and help you figure it out!” Flick added helpfully.
“No!” The force of this statement startled Flick. “I am sure of one thing, and that is you must go!”
“Back, yes, back to where it is you come from . . . I think.” His statement faded to uncertainty.
“I’ll leave in the morning, if that’s all right,” his voice still betraying a hint of hurt.
“Yes, yes, that’s fine.” Then again he was focused. “Be wary, my friend, things are changing, there is a great flux in the fabric of things, but I know not which way the scale of light and dark shall fall, only that you somehow are mixed up in it all.” After saying that, he caringly placed his palm over the object, and Flick’s heart.
Flick broke from his reverie, feeling disturbed. He did not like that feeling, he preferred to be his happy, carefree self, after all, he was going to see Erienne. Truth told, he had not thought much about what the old Mage had said until that moment, and he decided he did not like it very much. After all, he thought, where do I come from?
“Oh Flick, oh Flick what shall we do?” He called aloud as he leaped from stone to stone. “The fate of the world is up to you! / The moon is bright and we’re all alone/ while darkness creeps on baggedy bones. / Fear ye not for lest ye fail/ at shadow’s feet forever quail!” He said the last in a loud, quavering voice and then fell down laughing. “What do you think, Dink? What have you gotten me into?”