Tuesday, June 23, 2015

River Over the Rise

She half-crawled home, stumbling, blinded by tears, her hands clenching and grasping, empty, nails digging into meat, pawing up the rocks, treacherously, still reaching and clawing, sliding down the mountain feeling for where the infant had been. Her knees were long ago opened against the stone. Her feet left a red trail down to the river and a red deed. A whole moon bit at the heat-flicker of treetop shadows, scoured away places she could hide herself. They danced, those trees, and small clouds like scales rushed through a mostly clear but starless night. She never screamed, only wept, hacked, moaned. She had screamed. Now her mother climbed the mountain, carrying its weight in her stomach, struggling for a handhold lest she fall away into bottomless dark.

Blind to the mountain she saw a small scrap of flesh clinging to thin bone. Naked, writhing, wailing, wasting. She would die soon, but not soon enough. The grain was taken. The horses were still and fatted with disease. The fish were dead. The game was over. Her hair was falling out now. There was nothing more to give except peace, a grave's peace, mercy, a demon's mercy. The little one was so still so soon, then gone and washed away. She could suffer enough for both of them now. For a thousand thousand.

Dawn so soon? The climb was long, longer than ever before. It was with Fiera now, she knew, riding forever through plenty. She clung to this tighter than the mountainside as she climbed: the promise of a reward deserved for an injustice visited. The last of many. Beyond the reach of the Vaul it was now. It it had to become, or else she could not climb. She could not think of she. She could not think of the hunger and torture of life in the Vaul. Nor its maker, he gone two freezes now, hunting the continent's most elusive game.

She focused on the light of dawn. She focused through a red mind and a black belly on the stretching land, like a great arm, reaching past the Vaul. Just this mountain, then only another mountain, then merely a mountain more. She could climb just one mountain for as long as she need. Her eyes stung with wind and dust. She blinked away tears against the oranging sky. No bird flew here. No insect chirped. She was alone. Fiera, alone. Though the night was fast the world was still, watching her, knowing what she done.

Sisters. Father. An end to snows. The sea which goes on forever. Pomegranate. A life not in pain. A place not of Vaul. A light outside of Fiera's shadow. A place far from here, away from herself, as far away as any can run. Another man, as hard but kinder. Another child, then another. A world beyond the valley. A life beyond the river...a dawn...

The dawn was the color of sunset. Her eyes did not sting with wind and dust.

All the way to Fiera's river she had gone, much farther than most dared venture in Vaul. She could not let them see. She must not let them know. It was a long walk there, longer walk back. Time enough that the fire had burned now for hours. All night.

The sky waved, shape fading into shape under shifting light. Another ghost-flicker. You would need know the bones of the place to see it now in the small valley's dawnburn, sunk like a stone in a lake of blood. There, where the dead were piled from the Vaul. There, where the fields had once been. There, where the desperate gathered, piling stores, preparing for a bleak hope trek and last resort. Burning brightest. Stoked with marrowfat. Where father would be. Some say her life ended at Fiera's river. Some say her life ended in that moment, at the blazing bright valley as all the awfulness which was HERS burned away. Like the night she became still, and where many would have died, yes, she climbed. She climbed higher. And back, toward the icy throne of Fiera.

She did not feel the cuts on her feet now. She watched her hands and gripped tight to point of pain to know her holds as she climbed. She did not look up. It waited at her shoulder. The rage of a lifetime and a thousand lifetimes. Give yourself to me. You are over. I am begun. It waited at her shoulder, and climbed with her, watching the flame below, haze now further muted in the chill and snow. Was it spreading? It would not reach here. Do not think. Climb. Give yourself to me.

The growl of hunters then. The flash of an eye. Parting white, showing yellow tooth, shining moonlight eyes. NO, it said. You are mine. How many were there now? But how many were the Vaul? She watched her hands close around a piece of the mountain. She squeezed until she saw red, and knew the mountain would be unshakable. She bowed herself, and her eyes were not her own. No, she knew. It would not be that simple, would it? Teeth flashed, blood flowed, the mountain rang and cracked, as she hunted back. She hunted a long time.

Carefully. Tittering: Carefully, with what she did now. A fool to plan a life. A fool to plan a day. A fool to try one's will against the gods. A fool to trust them in the first place, at that. The dawn broke now, the real dawn, lashing clean light at her back without regard to what it shone on. Harsher than the moon. Angry with life. She knew the feeling. For the first time since she ran shaking from Fiera's river, hours gone, she looked down. She looked down into the swell and roar and white and rock of Fiera's river. Far, far below. She looked into the eyes of what waited beneath its black. Somehow, down there. Give yourself to me. She did not look at the fire. The bright light of dawn washed that light out and shone back at her, creeping across black and white and foam, changing everything to gold, and she felt hate for the first time in, oh. Only that long? She hated that gold.

I wonder if I will kill the sun when I die. Carefully,
climbing,
onto nothing











Did they set the fire? No, perhaps. Legend is an ugly word for not knowing. Some will insist they had, and vengeance was done. There was no right here. Night settled for the first time in a dozen generations on a clearing, not a town. On ash, and the hale red horses and moon mirror armor of men, ankle deep in a meadow of death. Small fires burned now, new fires, pale reflections of the valley of the night before. Fires of the dead, fires of rest and comfort. They came to claim. Even if innocent of the night fires, they came with new fires to burn the last of this world from Fiera's shadow. They thought this a joke, and scorned Fiera. Vaul. The beyonders who hold. The things which broke men.

They kept the thoughts and faces of this valley, piled high like soil, an offering for their foreign bastard. Not white. Not now. As they claimed the smiles of the ruin came the rain.

The rain mixed with the snow. The rain washed blood from rock. The rain lifted ash and danced with it, swirling into a river of dead. The rain filled the earth and the ash mixed with blood and snow and mud and the sweat and piss of the taking men, and the waters rose, and the breath of the march was still and quiet, and the black dead froze, and the tired men made more fires beyond the pass, over the reach, through the narrow, beneath the high and open maw of Fiera's river, thick with power. Tiny men, who scoffed at Fiera. Huddled against long night.

A thing was in the water.

It lifted itself from the black and freeze, the dead and muck, the ash licked off of Vaul boots by unrelenting torrent. It was black itself, slick, with flesh like pitch. It wriggled on its belly like a serpent, hooded like one, its face in darkness. It reached out, unsure of the strength of its limbs. It crawled like a lizard, thrashing, struggling. It crept as a spider, moving only when its heart beat. Its heart beat harder than the rain. It was not seen, yet. It raised its hood and there were fires, small fires, brighter than the fires of men but similar in hue. Its body was tensed, as if ready to flee, watching the white shining conquerors from beyond the edge of their light. Every muscle was stone.

It crawled through the camp, unseen in the clouded dim, beyond the reach of all light but its fiery gaze. First to the dogs. They snarled and challenged her, until they saw its fires. Until they smelled the blood, old blood. They cried, whimpered, and fell silent. It passed by through them, and after a long time they followed.

Into shelter it crawled. Into safety and warmth. The moongleam men were here. They slumbered. In skin it knew. In fires dimmed in the presence of those eyes, sputtering and dying, and in that light, slowly

she stood. Caked in shit and death, earth and blood, naked as a blade. Her hands were on the creature, this being, this thing from out of her world, death in the valley. She was gentle, at first. The first bite did the work. He woke and flailed but struggle though he might the blood never stopped, the purchase never lost. The snap came as an afterthought. She was not hungry, but the Vaul do not love their dogs. She took back the red-sopping skin. She took his sword also, for a night not this one. She only used her teeth. There were not many men the night she came out of the water. One hundred, just.

Was this her now? The moment this new life began? We know none so simple in life, as turning a page. For there was a day far from here, where her hand truly knew steel. And there was a day, long away, where minding of warmaking was bought and paid with heat-blasted muscle and raw screams. There were lives anew, again and again, broken on a battlefield but dragging herself, like a babe, through blade and sand. For life has a new cost each day, a new lender, but payment always is blood price.

Well, someone's.

I know not who she was. I do not understand who she is, what she has become. It is an ugly word, which kills our histories. Deeds never hers. Heights never climbed. Legend. But much is known, and what is known is awe and horror. None will come after her and equal.

Some say she is the mother. Some say she is the child. Some say she is the wolf. Some say she is the goddess. The town. The valley. The victim. The killer.
Reclaimer.
Vengeance.
Survivor.
Blasphemer.
Anointed.
Returned.
Mountain, snow, river, night, blood, stone
this was the woman the heartbreaker night hammered keen.

This is Breaka.