Book I: Spiders ‘n Snakes
To my child... all of them.
What follows is a true account to the best of my knowing, a chronicle of desperate people living in a desperate time, held together by the haunting auspice of hope, a proud people unwilling and unable to give up and finally unable to forgive. The right and true names of persons and places, timelines, have all been changed to protect the guilty. So falls the warrior down.
Counting the dead
in the eye of the dragon
Farewell to Hood
Never mercenary... forever tired
Following the Great Conflict Wulf’s friend, Hood, was buried with high ritual ceremony. At the conclusion of the conflict a final body count was made. Hood was on the list of the missing. After two months of no contact and the body never having been found, he was considered missing in action and presumed dead. Over five thousand soldiers gathered, representative of all thirteen tribes of the Cave of the Dark Heart. They appeared at the gathering place in ones, twos and tens. At the time of leaving they made way, riding two abreast. Snaking through the city at the feet of the Great Stone Mountains, over five miles of unleashed lightning and thunder, they made way. Never had gooseflesh claimed Wulf as it did that day. Five thousand hearts strong, he felt them breathe as one. As they mounted their steel dragons he was swallowed by raw sound, pure muscle and blood, mechanical fury. He was lost to those moments as he had never been lost before, drowned in a living flood of roaring engines, brotherhood and tears. Wulf was only a man, a man born to the See.
They rode high into the Stone Mountains behind the City of the Rock. When they reached the top and at the moment of the rising of the sun they tore a hole in the earth’s skin, their hands bleeding into her. Hood’s favorite dragon was brought forth, black and chrome, flames burning on her smooth skin. His riding leathers, boots and favorite personal weapons were tied to her sides. She was wrapped in chains and ten men made a solemn procession as they bore her to her final place of rest. She was lowered slowly into the warm embrace of the earth.
Then commenced a viewing and five thousand men dropped pieces of themselves into the earth that she would not travel the other side alone, searching for her lone rider. The Lords of the Dragon would be with her. There were maps and words, messages from those who had loved him and fought beside him, golden keys for her gates. Wulf cut all the hair from his head and face. On top of this he dropped six ears severed from the heads of mutual enemies. Finally, a golden tear from the trap at his throat and the leather strap and worn buckle from the shifting leather of his favorite fighting dragon.
Hood was one of the twelve who had shared with Wulf the mystery and challenges of the House of Discipline as eleven-year-old children, facing one another and the other eleven chosen each and every day for seven solid years. For twenty-five years they had ridden, fought and loved as brothers of the blood. Wulf had combed the field of battle inch by inch, searching for his friend. It was unbearable for him to bid farewell to Hood’s empty suit of armor but he was gone. The ritual and offerings devoured all of the first day and half the night. In the midnight, under the cold light of a hard, full moon, the hole was sealed that the warrior be healed.
Wulf found a smooth stone bathed in the full light of the moon. He rubbed and cleaned it with his bare hands and tears falling, chanting over and over, “Ty Ke Yi Yut Te... Ke,” the death song of the Cave of the Dark Heart. He knelt in the center of the grave, taking two tiny glass vials from a small leather bag on his belt. One vial contained a dark-colored liquid. Wulf uncapped the vial and drank deeply, consuming half its contents. He then recapped it. The other vial was full of the white staying-powder of war. Wulf opened it and laid a thick line of the fine white crystal substance across the blade of his field knife, again leaving the vial half full. He paused in his chanting and inhaled the powder through his nostrils, cleaning the blade with his tongue, then driving it deep into the earth in the center of the grave.
He continued chanting... “Ty Ke Yi Yut Te... Ke.” With his thumbs, he pressed the vials into the freshly turned earth on each side of the blade. He held the moonstone in both hands, turning it, caressing it. His chant became louder, more intense, his kneeling body rocking back and forth with the rhythm, the sound and strength of his voice, a voice both beautiful and mad. It became a keening thing, wailing, disembodied and howling forth as he raised the stone of the moon high over his head. With a final gut-wrenching scream, he brought the stone down with all his weight, burying the blade and vials beneath it. He stood slowly, reverently, backing away, whispering, “Ty Ke Yi Yut Te... Ke.” His eyes wild and uncomprehending, he collapsed at the edge of the circle of men surrounding the grave.
The Captain of the Guard made a chopping motion with his arm and explosives were detonated causing a small mountain of stone four times Wulf’s height of six feet to fall on top of Hood’s grave. The silence of five thousand fighting men paid quiet homage to the humble pile of stone standing as a shrine over the tomb of Hood. Many brothers, Wulf included, wrote messages of farewell in their own blood on smooth faces of the stone. Wulf left a haiku:
across the dark night
once and forever blooded
we are bleeding still
After the explosives and the writing of the blood many great fires were lit. The families, women, children and elders of those mourning, were coming to join the warriors of their blood. At first sight of the fires, a prearranged signal, they formed a caravan and sometime later began to arrive. They prepared a grand feast and celebrated with wines, bitter dark beers and the peace of the smoking pipe. For seven days and seven nights they reinvented, remembered and relived their lives and times with Hood. They praised and cursed him, laughed for him and cried. Most of the men remained awake throughout with the aid of the fine white waking-powders manufactured for the long nights of the war.
Finally, exhausted and spent, they rode five thousand strong into the seventh night. Across one hundred and fifty miles, riders split off in ones, twos and tens to return to warm fires in the caves of their homes. Having been the host of the event, Wulf rode the circle. He took the Nomads and those who chose to linger with him to his home outside the City of Stone. His children bid them welcome, all seven waiting expectantly for the arrival of their father. One more night the men sat up, telling the younger ones of the ritual and the glory of the man they laid to rest, Wulf with a child on his lap the entire time.
After a few days of rest the men fell into a routine. They spent time attending to the needs of the dragons, formulating future plans of rendezvous, trading stories and secrets. They rode across the long nights, into the City of Stone and other small mountain towns to attend drinking rooms, play cards, games of chance. Their favorite recreation by far was gathering in the smoky rooms, underneath low lights, where the night ladies made their danse. By the second week of autumn the last of the Nomads bid Wulf a fond farewell. His final guest, a Cajun by the name of Angelo, decided to winter in the City of Stone. He endeared himself to Wulf in his own peculiar way, “‘Sides mon-ami, I got nuttin’ goin’, we be mekkin’ dis a coo’ winter. I done made up m’ mind!” Wulf insisted Angelo stay in his home, which was only a couple of miles outside the city proper.