Friday, July 09, 2010

The River of Death


The ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ stood in a ten foot wide open gap between the inner tower and the outer wall. Before them were two doors, one near and leading into the tower, and the other was the arched tunnel through which they originally entered from the courtyard before the walled manor. They were furiously trying to decide what to do. They wanted to speak with Thurwulv and calm him down, but they feared that with a man of his sort it would not be possible.

Juliette was meanwhile focusing on her new vision from the “Stone of Seeing”. She was able to sense through things, feeling people and things more than seeing them with her normal vision. Focusing more intensely she suddenly spyed a doorway that she hadn’t noticed before. It was a short squat wide doorway along the outer wall between the first door and the second. It seemed like a doorway, and yet not. It was made of stones. And yet she sensed that it was in fact a doorway. A hidden one. She gave the spiral etched stone to Morgana for her to take a look as well. Morgana also saw the hidden door, and she put her hand into it as well. Her hand vanished into the liquid swirls that had seemed to be stones. Indeed, it was a passageway.

Then Morgana, curious, put her face through the doorway, into the stones which melted away like shimmering liquid. Inside she saw a world which she found utterly indescribable, except to say that it was a room in a hall with two doors, one blue and one red. Other than that she could not find the words to express what she saw there. The room was covered in mystic symbols carved into the stones, in such a profusion of patterns as would have made a butterfly’s wing blush. The symbols were moving, some slowly, and some rather rapidly, in arcs across the walls and floor and ceiling, every which way. She could not imagine how one would ever walk into such a room. Nor how they would get to the other side to open either of the doors. But they had other things of importance to discuss, and so she pulled her head back out and simply mentioned that there was a room with two doors. She also noted that she did not sense that the passage way went through the wall of the tower directly outside, but instead she felt that it went on to someplace quite 'other'.

They decided the best thing to do would be to go to the portcullis and lower the gate so that it would stand between Thurwulv and his men, and themselves. In this way they could talk with Thurwulf and perhaps mollify him.

Brian, Daniel, Morgana, Storm Wizard, Juliette and Laraby were ready to move. Morgana mentioned that Thurwulv, whom she could feel through the wall of the tower, had gone to the second floor where there were some other men. The ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ ran for the portcullis and finding the door locked they got Laraby to try his skill to open it. Out came his little box of tools and the lock snapped open. Storm Wizard entered, and when everyone else was outside the portcullis on the landing at the top of the stairs into the courtyard, he threw the lever and down came the portcullis gate. Storm Wizard then flew up and over the outer wall and landed with the others. He looked quite proud of himself until I thought of something.

"I probably should have broken the Portcullis lever", he said aloud but more to himself than anyone in particular.

Juliette stood in front with Brian and Daniel at her sides. Storm Wizard and Morgana stood behind her, and Laraby stood on the stairs, to the rear. Out came the men running full tilt. There were four of them, dressed for deadly combat. Iron studs dotted the dark leather vests as their swords glinted in the harsh sunlight. Black hats at a rakish angle, and cruel grins flashing, they came running down the tunnel, only to be stopped by the portcullis.

One turned aside and pulled the lever to open the gate. The gears creaked and groaned and the portcullus gate slowly openned. But there was not enough time for the proud band of young soldiers.

Immediately upon determining that these men had no inclination to discuss matters and meant them bodily harm, the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ went into ation. It was but a few moments before the four men were in critical condition or dead, even before the gate lifted. For in that brief amount of time two lightning arrows had flashed through the gridwork of the openning gate, Minvar’s Wrath crushed one beneath a falling stone from the ceiling, and a dragon stomp kick had disabled the third, leaving him gasping for breath against the tunnel wall. The remaining one standing, looked around with both fear and wrath fighting for supremacy of his soul. In a final blaze of fury and anxiety he lunged at Juliette, for once in his lifetime, with a flick of his wrist and a sudden jab he managed to prick her in the heart heart with the point of his sword.

Down went Juliette in a flutter. Morgana immediately fell toward her as Brian and Daniel exacted a sudden and final vengeance on the hapless, vicious warrior. Into her pockets she reached her hands, searching for the medicines that the Holy Aphid had given her before they left the Temple there. Onto her fingers oozed a green paste which she applied to the red wound. Then she took a twig the Holy Aphid had given her, and put it in Juliette’s mouth. She then took the Tarot Card of Death, and with a hopeful prayer, turned it upside down and placed it over the green paste where her unbeating heart was. And then she took the sacred “Seeing Stone” and placed it on top of the Card of Death, upside down, and prayed fervently. It was as though a sheen enveloped Juliette’s body, and she was held in a state of stasis , her body unchanging. Yet, the stone being on the wound focused her spirit to stay with her body, and she felt then that she could, if she looked sideways, see her surroundings. Her family and friends were there and helping her. She held on to hope.

“We must take her either to the Monastary of the Golden Sheaf, or to the Aphid Temple. We must do this quickly”, said Morgana emphatically. It was decided that Laraby would take Juliette and the others to the Monastary, and that Storm Wizard would stay behind to guard their retreat.

And so Storm Wizard, as the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ got on their way, flew upward to see what he might spy out. And he found Thurwulv, with his white hair, redish skin, and wry smile, standing firmly atop the inner tower, staring with a mocking tone at Storm Wizard, who remained out of range of Thurwulv’s throwing blades.

“Good. Very Good”, said Thurwulv with a grin.

“I’m glad you think so”, said Storm Wizard in reply.

“You killed my man, Mr. Montague. He was one of my best men”, said Thurwulv with a civil, yet menacing tone.

“Well, we didn’t actually kill him. He died protecting his lover, Morgana. You do know about that, don’t you?”

“Well, he never said anything to me about it”, replied Thurwulv with a look of surprise on his face.

“Yes, and he died saving her life from the Dark Bird of Night”, said Storm Wizard, still flying in a slow arc out of range.

“What Dark Bird of Night is this? I have not heard anything of it.”

“Well, never mind that then. My point is that we did not kill Mr. Montague”, said Storm Wizard emphasizing the word “we”.

“From where I stand, I saw you fighting up on the Tower and I saw Montague fall from there. I must Avenge my friend’s death. It is my duty.”

“Then avenge it on the Black Bird of Death”, retorted Storm Wizard.

“Well, it seems that you lost one”, said Thurwulv with his wry grin, “and I lost one.”

“So we’re finished then?”

“For now. But I have a feeling this is not the last time we shall meet”, said Thurwulv as he backed into the tower’s doorway into the parapet. And then he was gone.

Storm Wizard flew after the party, keeping an eye out behind him. And off through the mountains they went. Laraby worked up a rig that served as a bier upon which they carried Juliette in state. Her soft brown hair entwined with flowers and sweet scented herbs.

When the bier arrived at the Lumberjack’s camp there was a great reaction. The men were all aggrieved that the darling girl, Juliette, should have lost her young life on Black Hill. It added among them a new depth of loathing for that terrible place.

“Again, it always happens, but why Juliette!? She was so innocent and good”, they lamented. “You are lucky to have even come back from there at all, friends. You’re the first to return from there so far. All the others vanished and were never heard of again”, went the tale.

And so they left there, and went on to the Green Dragon Inn, where Lucia was distraught over the death of Juliette. She made many prayers over her, and entwined new herbs into her dress and kissed her on the forehead with many tears. Everyone at the bar drank in somber silence, until one sang a dirge-song about the brave and honest woman, who was a blessing to the land, and all the people she met, great or small.

Staying there but a short time for a meal and a short rest, they marched onward through the snow. As it happened, they found out that all the time they had spent with the Aphids was as if it was no time at all outside the old ruins. It was still winter after all, and Storm Wizard had been proven right – in that strange world of Weeleena’s time may well have simply stayed in the pleasant season, for that was it’s nature. It was certain that time had a strange way of ebbing and flowing in that place. When they looked outward to the forest it seemed time was very fast, and the seasons spinning by. But when they got close to any large being, such as Thurwulv’s foot, it seemed that time moved in slow motion.

They came upon a lonesome stretch of dirt paths and tall outcroppings where they had once met the 'Little Ones' in the cave. This is where they had gotten lost originally and from here had wandered unwittingly into the Black Forest. They were, once again, unsure of the way to the Golden Monastery. So they turned to Laraby, whom they felt had proven his worth in such matters before, and he determined that they should take the Southern pathway, which they did.

Then they came to old Biddy Mable’s shack in the hills. She was so overcome with grief over Juliette’s death that she wept full sore for a long time. And she cried out to the heavens for all her sorrow, and said that Juliette had been her friend. It was something she had not said of anyone in a long, long time.

They then rushed on to Perdu Hill, on which the gallows swing in the cold dark wind. They passed over the hill and descended into the cemetery. They followed a windy little trail between the graves, around little hills and prominences of rock capped by moss. They’d been on the road for two days and were quite tired by then. And they began to feel lost in the cemetery because of all the windy path that was so hard to follow, even for Laraby, who was especially good at that sort of thing.

“Why hello there”, cried Mr. Ebol the caretaker who had been working on a new grave.

“You’ve come just in time. You can put her right in here! It’s all fresh and ready”, said Mr. Ebol with evident cheer. "I just finished it, don't you know!"

“No, thanks. We want to take her for her Rites at the Monastary of the Golden Sheaf, you know.”

“Oh that! What do you kids know about anything anyway?!”, said Mr. Ebol suddenly irritable, but walking along a particular path leading the way as he gesticulated with hand over head.

They came out on the far side of the cemetery, and as a flock of crows flew up into the glowering sky, they emerged into the fields before the Monastery, with its golden dome. It was a pleasant site for sore eyes, to be sure.

The men in the fields came quickly when they saw that a bier was being carried. They were all friends of Juliette, fellow monks of Minvar. Penelope the Abbess was summoned and she arrived swiftly. Her countenance was grave.

“Bring her to the Womb of Minvar”, said Penelope, and they laid here there upon a stone slab.

“We will know in three days if she shall return to us, or pass on away from us”, said Penelope as she worked on applying new herbs and flowers to Juliette’s hair. “We must leave her now”, she said and shut the door so that the room went pitch black and silent as space. There lay Juliette, her spirit near her body, in the cold darkness of the Womb of Minvar.

This she could sense when she looked sideways. However, when she looked straight ahead then she saw something quite different indeed. She was standing on the edge of a black river, the icy water up to her ankles. She could not quite walk backwards onto the shore. Mist was everywhere. There were dead trees in the mist. The river flowed a ways off downstream to a water falls, over which it vanished with a roar. Beyond it was darkness profound.

She decided to stay where she was. But then she saw a boat on the water. It was a small boat. A paper boat. It looked like a small origami boat floating near her ankles on the water. She reached down to pick it up, and it then bobbed away on the water. When she stood up again, the boat bobbed back toward her ankle. She noticed that the boat was bobbing around over a rock just under the surface of the water. On the smooth surface of the stone was engraved the same inverted double spiral pattern as the one on her “Seeing Stone”. Over this the boat kept a steady vigil. On the third try she touched the tiny boat, and instantly found herself on it’s deck.

It swayed largely on the current of the river, and began to float toward the water falls, from beyond which came the sound of a great gong, which sounded three times, very slowly. Juliette grew afraid. She felt that going over the waterfalls was a bad idea. She looked around at the boat for some way to steer it when she noticed that it was beautifully crafted with all kinds of designs and patterns, and engravings of mythical beasts such as dragons and unicorns. It was an amazing vessel. She saw there at the helm a tiller and went to steer the boat with it, but she found that there were six stations for oarsmen that were empty. The oars lay on their benches. Without the oarsmen she could not steer the boat.

Meanwhile, out in the “real world” Storm Wizard was speaking earnestly with Penelope as the faithful Abbess prepared tinctures and gems for the work she would do to help Juliette arrive back in the land of the living.

“We went, you see, the Realm of the Insect King, and met the Holy Aphid in his temple, and we discovered that the Red Locusts of the East are saying that there is soon to come a great swarm called the Grand United Army. It will”, he said, “kill everything in it’s path. The Locust Ambassador claimed it would come soon. But we do not know, given the strangeness of time there, if that is in three weeks or ten years.”

Storm Wizard then outlined the plans that the Aphids and the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ had agreed upon. It was a masterful plan, she said. “Yes, the need is urgent”, agreed Penelope in amazement at their adventure. “However, I must help Juliette now. I will send an Abbot with you. He shall help. His name is Clarence. He will help you to raise money for your venture, and hire the men you need.”

And so Storm Wizard was introduced to Abbot Clarence and they left the Monastery immediately with Clarence in the lead. Once he learned of the tale, he estimated based on his knowledge of time and the Insect Kingdom (which was not inconsiderable), that they had until the end of the summer to effect their plan. It was a tight schedule. And he did not like the fact that the mountain agreed upon was far beyond the reach of where anyone in Glendale had ever ventured to before. In the Eastern Desert, beyond the Black Forest, which none of them had ever seen.

Meanwhile, Penelope had placed six candles and six stones around Juliette’s body. Juliette could sense these from her peripheral vision, and then slowly the lights showed up along the banks of the dark river. She could see that the stones under the lights each had a pattern. A scorpion by the water falls, then a sword on the other side of the river, then a sun, and a heron, then a salmon, and finally a half man half fish.

It was mystifying indeed. And then, to her surprise, there appeared on each stone a man dressed in a toga. They walked through the water toward her boat. Each was very handsome, with different colors of hair and eyes, but all strong and courageous. When the men entered the boat they were completely dry. They took positions at each oar, and then the closest one with blond hair and cool blue eyes, looked back at her, silently inquiring, “where do we take you, my lady?”

“Take me to the Sun”, said she.

And so the glistening men rowed the boat across the river, while Juliette steered the boat at the till, which took a great deal of effort as the current in the center was strong. Eventually the boat beached upon the shore where the Golden Sun was shining, a face upon a golden shield leaning against the rock. The face was that of a lion, both fierce and yet kind at the same time. It was strange. She stood before the golden Sun and said, “I am not ready to die. My friends are helping me. I still have hope.”

And the Sun-Lion smiled.


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