Thursday, October 28, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-21

The Difference Between the Sword and the Knife

Yearling planted a wooden post into the ground and Zacharion had Sihaya attack it time and again with a variety of weapons. They also had her spar against them, individually and both at once. In both cases, Zacharion pressed her firmly and Yearling pressed her fiercely, showing her how to deal with the often unfavorable conditions put before her. They also used their gifts from the Sun and the Moon to soothe the pains of body and mind while facilitating the comprehension of lessons, accelerating what ordinarily would take years into weeks.

Meanwhile, the boys would take turns investigating the area about their camp. Yearling, in particular, hunted regularly to provide for the three of them. The waters nearby provided what game could not, so the three lived simply but well enough for their needs. The three quickly developed the skills in Sihaya that she needed, polishing those of the boys in doing so.

After one session, in the evening, Sihaya smiled as she bit into a piece of venison. Then she turned to Zacharion and said “Are you pleased with your sword?”

“No,” he said, “but I am rather pleased with my knife.”

Sihaya looked at him, puzzled. “Am I not to be your weapon?”

Zacharion smiled. “A sword is excellent on the defense. Its length is that of a man’s arm, and with the proper balance it is a light and powerful extension of that arm. A warrior can block blows with ease, warding away death, and then once his assailants are over-extended he strikes. Yes, he may kill them, but more important is to drive them away.

A knife is different. It is short and while one can learn to defend while using it, it is instead the case that using a knife requires a mode of aggression one need not have with a sword. If one seeks to fight with a knife, one must commit wholeheartedly to the strike- he must kill in his heart before he ever kills with his hand. They are made with different intentions behind their use; you must master this.”

Sihaya paused in her eating to take in Zacharion’s words.

“What of the spear and other weapons?” she asked, curious.

“The spear is a pole with a blade on its tip. Like the sword, it is a weapon one uses first and foremost to defend- principally, oneself. Staves are used in a similar manner to spears when used with two hands, using reach and leverage to wear away opponents until they can strike and then—again—it is to drive them away or compel submission, not to kill. Killing is, at best, secondary as it is with swords. The same is true of clubs and axes, as these are tools first.

The knife is not these things. One has to commit to the kill before driving it home, because to strike that blow and be effective one has to risk all. This is not so with other war-making tools. Those are tools for fighting. The knife is a tool for killing, and that makes all of the difference.”

Yearling, also sitting at that fire, nodded his concurrence.

“One does not take up the bow or spear to kill. They fight with such things, but it is enough to wound a foe and either capture or drive off that foe. When one draws his knife and intends to use it, he must intend to kill and only kill with it or he will fail against his foe every time. If the foe is armed, then he must use cunning to get past those arms. If armored, he must strike past it somehow and that also takes cunning. Heart and hand must be devoted to the slaying without question, for nothing else will do.”

Sihaya recalled the bruises sustained when she hesitated and let either of the boys smite her with slim branches acting as training weapons, or throw her to the ground, or grapple her into a hold she could not break.

“With our aide, you’ve come a long way in a short period of time.” Zacharion said, “Yet there is more to master. You have the hands, but not yet the mind or heart.”

“You must learn to forge your love into the knife within yourself.” Yearling said, “A woman’s will to kill comes most fierce from defense of family, and in that task we can only guide you- you must do this work yourself.”

Sihaya looked upon the two she had come to trust with more than her life, and she saw that they—who, like she, was not yet of age—had already killed at least once in exactly the manner that she now learned. They carried knives, had killed with those knives, and not in self-defense; her father, by comparison, had trained her only to fight and from the same premise of defense. She knew to defeat an opponent, though she had slain them in recent days, but this was something else. She was a nascent warrior- they were killers, manslayers, stalkers, the very threat she learned to combat.

“Why would you want a woman to be as you are?”

“When you next see your mother,” Yearling said, “ask her. ‘Keela of the Knife’ is not purely due to her use of knives as a healer.”

Sihaya was about to object, when Zacharion waved her off saying “Not now. Confront her when the time comes, and not before. Trust that I know what needs to be done and why, for when you must act you shall- without hesitation.”

“Sleep on it, sister.” Yearling.

“Tomorrow, we go into the ruins. We’ve tarried here long enough.” Zacharion said, “It is time to move on.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-20

The Coming of Twilight

Zacharion, Yearling and Sihaya broke camp a few days later, having satisfied their need to fill all their provision needs, and set out once more.

“Where are we going?” Sihaya said, curious.

“Before we strike out towards the Sons of Ken, first we must visit a long-forgotten ruin of a temple.” Zacharion said, “It exists in a place of perpetual gloom, resting at all times between day and night. Therein we are to seek out knowledge we must have before we seek the homeland of the Sons of Ken.”

“What knowledge?” Yearling asked.

“Where we can find the Twilight Son, the child born of the previous union of Sun and Moon, who will be able to ensure that the Daughter of Ken meant to be my Moon-wife and I will fulfill our duties to Man and the Creator.”

Sihaya waved at Zacharion. “Does this son have a name?”

“Not quite. He has a label, passed from one to the next as the Sun and Moon select their own mortal agents. As he represents the last remnant of the Creator’s chosen people, he is called ‘Seph’. The Dark Lords of old, in turn, toiled for the traitorous servants of the Creator, and they spawned the race of liars known as the Khazarim.”

Yearling looked worried. “Did not my mistress and your master not throw them all down?”

Zacharion nodded. “The Dark Lords are forever gone, beyond the reach of all but the very Creator that they spurned ages ago, but the Khazarim remain. If left unchecked, they will succeed their masters. This much I know because Ilker taught me well his own history.”

The others nodded, agreeing, having heard similar lore from their own elders.

“Why would Seph hide? Would he not know, as we do, when this work of yours must be done?” Sihaya asked, “Or does he remain secluded until the time comes?”

Zacharion shrugged. “I don’t know. All that I do know is that, to be certain, we go there first and learn how to find him. Ilker said that the knowledge rests there, and the Witch confirmed it.”

* * * * * *

Many days passed as they travelled through dense forests and across many lakes and rivers, the hills increasing in size and number as they made their way north. Then, at the headwaters of what was once a great and powerful river said to divide the whole of the Old World in two, the three of them saw not far away a ruined building, and in their youthful eyes it seemed to match the descriptions of temples to the gods and saints that once ruled the peoples of the Old World before the Azure Flames.

They marked its features as they drew closer. Its frame remained standing, as did its roof, but what once seemed to be windows had long since been destroyed somehow—in their places crude wood planks, half-rotted now, stood—and its main gate seemed unlikely to open due to the pervasive rust on the iron-wrought doorframe.
Zacharion felt a warm spot on his forehead, at the spot of Ilker’s Kiss, and understood.

“This is the place.” Zacharion put down his burden. “It’s been a long journey, and this ruin will be here tomorrow. I say that we camp here and tonight and go on tomorrow.”

Yearling nodded, as did Sihaya, and they too put down their burdens. They made camp, and drew fresh water from the springs feeding into the headwaters nearby. Yearling brought down game and over their fire the three considered their position.

“We’ve been fortunate so far.” Zacharion said, cutting a piece of venison from the whole, “I’ve had one hostile encounter after Solland, and none since the Witch’s sanctum. It is unreasonable for this to endure. Once the cunning amongst the wicked deduce what is truly going on, a full search for us will begin.”

“Will they not also seek out this girl?” Sihaya asked.

Yearling laughed, and he too cut a piece for himself. “The Khazarim—for they are the only ones left cunning enough to deduce the facts—would have to send an army into the homeland of the Sons of Ken to kill her. If the beasts native to their lands do not destroy such a force, the Sons will, and any seeking to slip past them will find the Daughters of Ken to be no less dangerous. The women chosen by the Moon are never, ever weak.”

“She is well-protected, and already as formidable as you are, my warrior-princess.” Zacharion said, “I’ve seen her from afar when I visited the Witch, and her father is the warlord that your father and mother once travelled alongside.”

“The Painbringer is her father?!”

The boys nodded and smiled. “Imagine, then, what woman could possibly be a worthy wife to him- and thus this girl’s mother!” Yearling said, “Oh no, there is no reasonable threat to her at all.”

Zacharion then took her by the hand and locked his eyes with hers. “It is I, Sihaya, that is in peril here. The Moon-girl has a great and powerful warrior-nation surrounding her, guiding her, and training her to be the Moon on Earth. I am bereft of my master, with naught but you and Yearling to support me and relying on only what we three alone can do to stay alive and fulfill my duty. It is I, not she, they seek to butcher.”

Zacharion turned over Sihaya’s hands and put his palm to hers. “I rely upon you to take these, your soft and courtly hands, and harden them into the hands of a warrior-woman in truth- and in this I will see that your heart becomes your hands, and your courage becomes your prowess. Our enemies did not think that your mother was a threat until after she cut them down and their foul ichor sprayed the ground, and neither do they think that you are anything other than a foolish, headstrong girl with dreams of wooing princes in your head.”

Sihaya, then, for the first time, felt a terrible tremor in Zacharion’s voice: “Your father taught you how to fight. I will teach you how to kill.”

Silence dropped down on them suddenly, as the weight of the words grew too heavy to hold, but only for a moment.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because you love me,” he said, “and I love you.”

The echo between them and Sihaya’s parents was not lost on either of them, though only he knew that both of them realized it at that time, and thus began the transformation of Sihaya of Solland into Sihaya the Sun’s Shield.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-19

Reconciliation of What Must Be With What One Wants Isn’t Easy

The night passed quietly. Zacharion and Yearling let Sihaya sleep through the night, deciding that a full night of sleep was warranted under the circumstances. The following morning, the three decided to stay for the day where they were, as the weather did not seem promising for travel, and took the opportunity to rest. As Yearling took up the task of hunting and foraging, Zacharion took Sihaya to the water’s edge.

“This journey will not be short, Sihaya. You shall not return home soon, but instead you are with me now for the years it will take to complete this task.”

“Years?” Sihaya said, curious, “How many?”

“Enough for us to pass out of childhood.” He said, “So a few years at least. Yearling will likely merit a new name by the time we are done, and we shall be as he is now.”

“Why so long a time?”

Zacharion sighed. He felt the need to address this now, while the time was right. “Because we are to travel to the lands of the Sons of Ken, where there awaits us a young girl who is the New Moon, about our age. Once there, we—rather, I—must prove my worth as the New Sun in order for she and I to fulfill our destinies together.”

Sihaya’s face betrayed her incomprehension.

“We are to be married, but not as Man and Wife. Rather, we are to be the means by which Sun and Moon renew their marriage- and, by doing so, Man renews his connection to the Universe and thus sustains the renewal that began with Ilker and the Witch of the Wastes generations ago.”

“You’re going to marry a girl you’ve never seen, years from now, after proving to her—and, I think, to her father—that not only are you who you say you are, but that this is not like the marriage my parents have?”

Zacharion nodded, hooking a worm on his fishing pole and casting again.

“How is this so?”

“The universe, as Ilker taught to me, and as the Witch confirmed, is a living thing. It seeks to make sense of itself, as we seek meaning in our lives, and because both we and it are living things that seek meaning we use the same principles to pursue this end.”

“I think I know now how many of Holy Ilker’s companions felt. I don’t follow you.”

“Ilker became the Sun. The Witch became the Moon. As Sun and Moon, they married and did what marriage requires, but as Ilker and the Witch they were mere companions—fond ones, but not married—and thus lived otherwise as ordinary men and women do. Ilker had women he loved, and the Witch had men she adored, and neither of these interfered with their being Sun and Moon for we free peoples for their day.”

The concept of a sacred persona slowed seeped into Sihaya’s mind, and her face showed it.

“Your parents, for example, are both King and Queen as well as Zebulon and Keela. They are both of these things, yet not at the same time, for some things require King and Queen to accomplish while others require Zebulon and Keela. These names are just that, names, things we put upon ideas of who or what we are, and yet we are none of them; we can change our names, and thus our identities, as we change our clothes and behaviors.”

Now Zacharion saw that he hit upon a way to get Sihaya to understand the idea of identity as a malleable thing.

“Kings and queens act, dress and carry on like they do because the role that royalty plays is as much a performance of a sacred drama—a ritualized reflection of how reality truly works, albeit a very imperfect one—as it is anything else, and I say that this ritual aspect is the most important part of that role. Kings and queens act as priests before the universe, representing their peoples and standing in for them in all things, which is why there is a well-known connection between the quality of the monarch and the quality of the realm. The flawed realm of your parents reflected the flaws of your parents, flaws now being purged, thankfully, as you are no longer around to hold them back from their duties.”

“So,” she said, “if this you say is true, then you and this girl will be standing in for Sun and Moon as Holy Ilker and the Witch did?”

“Yes.” Zacharion said, as he pulled in another fish.

“And when you two become Sun and Moon, Sun and Moon will renew their marriage and do as married people do, including children?”

Zacharion nodded. “Indeed we shall. The child born of the old marriage, the Twilight Son, will find us and do his part to see this come to pass.”

“But, even though it will be you and she kissing and so on, it’s really Sun and Moon?”

“It shall be so, and when Sun and Moon are done with us then she shall be herself and I myself- ready and able to live and love as we like until Sun and Moon need us again.”

“This is all very weird, Zacharion, but you haven’t been wrong yet and Ilker chose you to succeed him, so I believe you and trust you. I still love you, and I want to be your wife- and you king of Solland. If you can be the Sun, the King and Zacharion then I can be Queen, Sun’s Consort and Sihaya; this girl may be the Moon, and the Sun’s wife, but she shall not be your wife otherwise.”

Zacharion nodded, and he felt a bit of worry grip his shoulders, because this did not bode well for the future.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-18

The Way Through the Wastes

Zacharion and Yearling left the lair of the Witch and travelled for some days through the Wildlands, following paths that the Lunar Nation blazed generations ago that kept the youths far from prying eyes and malevolent hands. Across thick forests, wide lakes, tall grasses and rolling hills filled with game full and fair did they travel. In some places, they noticed traces of settlement long past—a bit of foundation, a scrap of rusted iron, a ruined piece of wall with unknown script written on it—and in so noticing these traces they became aware that someone else was within a day of them. This unknown apparently seemed to be attempting to contact them.

The boys talked briefly, agreeing that they ought to see who this unknown is, and so camped on the bank of a river. That night, as the boys enjoyed the bounty of an evening spent fishing and foraging, they heard the approach of a solitary figure- one not trying to be stealthy. Yet this figure did not come into view, not of them. It kept its distance. It seemed to watch, to wait, to stalk like a predatory beast and not come forward like a man.

Neither of the boys felt any fear. Thinking that this was someone seeking advantage, they saw to it that one would feign fatigue and bed down while the other remained awake and alert. Zacharion bedded down, Yearling stood watch, and there began their game. Some time passed, and Yearling got up to relieve himself, conveniently leaving Zacharion open. As the boys expected, the figure crept into their camp and moved next to Zacharion, and pulled back the blanket to see his face. When the figure, hearing Yearling’s return, tried to flee it suddenly found itself held fast as a bare foot whipped out from underneath the blanket and struck the figure in the small of the back, inducing paralysis instantly.

Yearling sauntered into the camp and roughly removed the figure’s cloak, revealing a girl underneath. Zacharion got up and took a look at this girl, obvious from the first as being nearly his own age, and sensed that something else so common to the living mythic cycle had again occurred. Without ever looking at her face to be certain, he struck again in the small of the back and removed the paralysis.

“Princess Sihaya, allow me to introduce Yearling of the Lunar Nation, apprentice to the Witch.” Zacharion said, “Yearling, please clear a place for our companion.”

Yearling chuckled, and then he complied. Indeed, it was Sihaya, come a great long way, with naught but a blade and a ring to show her true status. Before Sihaya could ask, Zacharion answered her question: “No one else would come so as if to kill me, yet pause to admire me, before either acting or fleeing. I apologize for my action, but I did so to satisfy any suspicion that I was wrong, and I knew as soon as we touched that I was right.”

Sihaya looked at him, stunned, and it took a moment for his words to make sense. Yearling then sat her down by the fire, and Zacharion continued.

“If you are here, then I can only conclude—given your behavior—that your parents are at war and that this war has so embroiled Solland that it would be safer for you to be with me than to be with them or one of their followers.”

Sihaya nodded.

“Zacharion, is this the one that Mistress mentioned?” Yearling said, curious.

“Indeed, she is, and if she made it here on her own then she is even tougher than I previously thought.”

Sihaya looked at Zacharion, her eyes asking another obvious silent question.

“Yes, Your Highness, you may stay with us. If you got this far, there’s no going back- a fact that I think all three of us can live with.”

Sihaya kissed Zacharion on the cheek and cuddled up to him.

“You two can stay up a while now as I sleep.” Yearling said, taking advantage of a clear opportunity before him, “I am certain that you have much to talk about.”

Which they did, starting with the civil war in Solland and the incursion by the mutants, which in turn led to a series of crisis and revolts by remaining traitorous opportunists that all hit at once- starting with a second assassination that resulted in many of Zebulon and Keela’s followers falling under knives meant for them instead. She didn’t witness much more, but during her flight she learned from the few men guarding her that long-standing pressures burst forth and generations of suppressed resentment and hated held in abeyance by Ilker now washed like successive tidal waves.

Soon word came that similar eruptions occurred amongst the Sea Princes, rendering aid to or from them impossible as the isolation solidified. Hostile riders then closed in on her and her party, a group of men she had to leave behind at a critical crossing out of the realm. She’d been on her own since she crossed into the wilderness, being careful to avoid contact with anyone, yet she couldn’t avoid feeling as if she was being watched, guided, herded in a desired direction.

“That sounds like the Witch.” Zacharion said, “You were in her domain, and known to her, so I have no doubt that she quickly deduced the matter and saw fit to help you catch up to me.”

“I felt certain that I would find you, as if my love for you would be enough.”

He kissed her forehead. “It was, and tonight that is all you need to know. Sleep now, my warrior woman, for tomorrow I have much more to teach to you- and it will not be at all easy for you to hear.”