Sunday, September 11, 2016
1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Perry Rev 1
The hill waited and watched all that day in brooding silence. No birds sang, no breeze stirred the boughs of the trees that crowned the summit. The drop of a single acorn clattered he canopy and hit the grass with a sound out of all proportion to its size.
The concussion of hoof-beats shattered the spell and launched a flock of birds out of the tree-tops. When the riders cantered up the hill armed men rose up like phantoms from the ground. They surrounded the horses and took the bridles and helped the riders drop from the saddles.
Peir, chief of the scouts, tipped a water-skin back. Overhead the jeering birds circled the hill and rose up into a column that could be seen for miles in that empty land. They turned all in a mass and would have flown south but for a sudden westerly wind that dispersed them, still complaining, to the east.
At the summit of the hill the Warlord – the Rhuan- sat on a large rock as if carved from it. Peir handed the water-skin off and walked up. He made a visor of one hand against the overcast glare and gave his report.
“We found a trail. It’s recent. They’re heading south.”
The expression on the Rhuan’s face flickered like a ripple across a still pond. He was looking north where the restless grass ran on and on to the trees that hemmed in the horizon. The forest appeared to be only a day’s ride away but it was a trick of perspective due to the size of the trees, which were bigger than anything in the world except the mountains.
“Winter’s coming,” he said.
Peir nodded. Now that the spell was broken the north wind rattled the papery leaves and smelled of snow.
The Rhuan clasped his hands together and held them between his knees. “How many?”
“I’d guess three hundred. They made sure to cover their tracks.”
Peir had never seen the Rhuan surprised before. “Three hundred Reavors?”
Peir didn’t say anything. The north wind continued to blow.
The Rhuan got to his feet as if an invisible weight was balanced on his shoulders. “Last year they had about half that amount. We ran into them a half-day’s ride from here. Surprised us both, I think. I lost forty-one of my boys.”
“These Reavors are heading south and in a hurry. Don’t think they’re looking to ambush.”
The Rhuan shook his head. “I don’t think last year’s Reavors were either. That’s what bothers me. What else do Reavors do? And why are they here so late with the storms coming?”
Peir waited a second before saying, “Renegades, perhaps? Losers in one of their wars?”
The Rhuan didn’t answer. He climbed up onto the rock and looked beyond the Here and Now, bending his mind so he could see into the connective energy that bound heaven to the ground beneath their feet, which the People called eiathar. It spoke of the world’s rotation towards winter, the migration of the birds and mammals, the trees, but there was no trace of the Reavors.
The Rhuan dropped down from the rock and his face was grim. “These are no renegades. I can’t see them in theeiathar. Same thing last year. I’m troubled.’
Peir was troubled too. This was the last day of the last patrol and they were supposed to be heading home, to the families they left a year ago. For the past month now his mind was crowded with their faces, and he sometimes heard their voices when he lay down to sleep. “What do you want to do?”
The Rhuan jerked his chin to the northwest where only the stumps of a mountain chain could be seen beneath the swollen clouds. “That rain wants to turn to snow. I’ve asked it to hold off, but it won’t hold long. Any day now the North Pass will be closed and we’ll be cut off from the valley.”
Overhead, a last V of geese were stroking south. The Rhuan said, “They must have gotten a late start.” He smiled and the hard planes of his face softened. “They come from the very edge of the world, where the land breaks apart into the icy sea. The air is full of birds - you can’t imagine the numbers. And the sound!” He shrugged. “But that’s where winter comes from too and those last geese are riding at its head. We have three days.”
The Rhuan looked around at the hundred and eighteen men crouching as still as the wind-twisted trees, facing outwards, double-curved bows held ready. “These are good boys.”
Peir nodded. “They’re boys. Still need some seasoning.”
“Peir, they’ll have to do.”
Peir looked up at the sky again. A pair of kites stood in mi-gyre against the dome of the sky like insects caught in amber. “I know. I knew it the moment we came across those tracks.”
The Rhuan buckled on the sword that lay at his feet. A young man with wild hair stepped out of the shadows behind him to hand him his lance.
“Okay, Peir, take me to where you found the trail.”
They were cunning: their trail followed the contours of the land without leaving any – but when they approached it, the eiathar rippled with menace. The Rhuan passed his reins and his lance to the Peir and walked forward, spreading the grasses before him with both hands like a swimmer wading. He descended into the low space between hills and then entered the trail– passing out of this world and into the eaithar in a flicker like summer lightning.
In that Other-Where he felt their passage: a turbulence of fear, trepidation, and hunger that beat against him and spun him about as if he was caught in a river flood. The Rhuan fought to master it but it resisted him with uncanny strength; then he fought to move beyond it so he might view it from a distance, but it pulled him back and continued to whirl him about; then, in a moment of clarity, he realized the turbulence meant to tear him apart and, realizing his peril, he began to fight against it, but there was no way to get free. Each move he made was met by a counter move. Time was running out, the longer he stayed, the greater the chance to lose himself completely, to melt into the eiathar. He felt his consciousness separating into loose threads, unravelling into the general chaos. Rather than fighting, he released himself into it and pushed through to the center.
There was something there with him, something sentient there in the eiathar with him that shifted and feinted, and slipped outside his periphery so he could not see it straight on.
Who are you?
A chill passed through his body, breaking his concentration. He came out of the eaithar as if jerked by a rope.
Peir saw the Rhuan stagger out of the grass. He ran forward to take his weight and ease the Rhuan to the ground. “Give me a chance to catch my breath,” the Rhuan gasped. Peir stepped back full of fear. He glanced at the men and boys all around and began planning how he might get them home if the Rhuan failed.
The Rhuan straightened up, his face drawn and his eyes wild. He shook his head and when he smiled, it was his old smile again – though he was pale. “That’s a first for me,” he said.
“You’re scaring me, Ellis,” Peir said, calling the Rhuan by name.
The Rhuan nodded and raised a hand, palm out. “I’m a little scared myself.” He bent over and put his hands on his knees. “Something was in there with me. Something tried to pull me in and destroy me in the eaithar.”
Peir cocked his head and scowled. “What are you telling me?”
The Rhuan straightened up and nodded.
Peir felt a rage flare up his throat and into his face. Where it came from, he had no idea. “What are you telling me? That there’s someone else – some other race that understand the eaithar?” His chest beat with adrenaline and fear and a desire to lash out. This was unnatural, the universe was perverted. This was wrong.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” the Rhuan said. “I have been the Rhuan – the warlord of the People for two hundred years. This is beyond me. I feel like I met my match in there.”
Peir felt his rage subside into cold fear. “What do we do?” He felt like a child again, asking his father. He was one-hundred and eighty years old and there were no longer demons in the shadows, keeping him from sleep – but now he felt that forgotten uneasiness.
The Rhuan stood up straight and he was himself again. He reached for the sword at his belt and closed his hand around it as if reassuring himself it was still there. “The answer’s that way,” he said, pointing south.
The fear and the anger settled in Peir’s belly like a stone. “How do you want to proceed?”
The Rhuan made a circular motion with his hand above his head. “This is your patrol. You make the call.”
Peir looked around at the men who sat waiting. Eighty-six boys in their twentieth year plus thirty four veteran warriors - Rhiga . “Ok, I’m gonna ride ahead with the scouts again. Take all the Rhiga and leave most of the youngsters to follow behind with you – but I’m gonna want two or three of the more gifted boys. Might as well make this part of their training.”
The Rhuan leaned back and laughed. “You’re taking Bazz, aren’t you? Admit it: I was right! I told you at the beginning of this tour . . . .”
Peir rubbed his chin and frowned. “I didn’t say he wasn’t a gifted candidate – what I said was, if I don’t kill him first.”
Peir rode back to patrol and divided the scouts from the van. “Bazz,” he said to s young man with wild hair. All the other young men were checking equipment, adjusting weapons. Bazz was blowing through a leaf blade, making an unpleasant blatting noise as if he was still a herd boy, watching his tribe’s horses. “You’re coming with us. Leave the toy.”