THE EAGLE AGAIN RISES, now crying of triumph. Joyous, elated, she wheels and swoops above the confusion of horses and men—for the Gimmrin now have arrived. Their bright metal weapons—copper-topped pikes, bronze axes, copper-banded stone maces—glint and flash in the sun. She hears their clang as they clash amid grunts and yells, amid screams and curses, as the horses fall with blood jetting, blood spurting, blood spraying, guts spilling. And helpless she watches as the horses crush their riders beneath them. Yet look, those horsemen are winning the fray. She soars above them, snapping her wings, making thunder, glorying in the late success of the day.
But her joy shrivels to a stone heavy within her. Beneath her, there, her sons, the black and the white, are swinging sharp axes to hack at each other. Why must they do that, why won’t they be done? Compelled to watch, she can’t fly away, though to watch is an agony. Both the fruit of her body, both she must love. Yet it’s for Kallaren she fears the most. She wheels above them—and they, both together, notice her presence. They, both together, stop swinging their axes as they raise their eyes to her.
Is this an end to it? Will they stop fighting now their mother is near? She sees shame in Kallaren as his hands loosen their grip on his axe. But, alas, she sees no shame in the other. And Neka’s man to the last, Nilai draws a dart from a holder strapped to his back. He raises it and aims . . .
. . . and she is an eagle for all her deep-knowing. She soars above them, languidly wheeling when she ought to have flown.
Hatred is loud in the swell of Kallaren’s shimmering light—she sees and she knows his intent. With anguish she watches as with sickening frenzy they attack, they defend, their battle then veiled by a screen of blood . . .
. . . and if Kallaren’s intent is to save her then fighting his brother isn’t enough for Nilai has already alerted others . . .
Darts fly. They zing and whish—so many now from every direction. They whoosh and zoom as she tries to avoid them. But they’re everywhere: low when she’s low; high when she’s high; if she veers to east the spears are there; if she veers to west and south . . . Trapped in a net of spears, darts and arrows, dizzied by her zigging and zagging . . .
An experienced hunter lurks. Wolf-worthy, he uses a caster to increase range and velocity. The lithe woody-stem whistles towards her with deadly precision. It hits with flesh-ripping force. She hears the crack and snap of her feathers. She feels the give of her flesh. Savage heat fills her, a shaft of wood, hard and heavy, lodged in her chest. She cannot fly. She can’t stay aloft. As in her dreams, she plummets, descending in the howling spiral of a wolf-stone falling out of the sky.
She sees the ground. It’s coming up fast. She sees the blood as it seeps from her breast, as it soaks her feathers. She sees it trickling. It drips into her mouth. It blurs her vision. Yet through it she sees a tiger pacing, sand, black and white.
She’s not aware of the pain on impact. She bounces . . . Once . . . Twice . . Thrice. And again she’s a woman, and here is her fate: brought to her death above the Idiglat Plain between the two rivers. Darkness and stillness spreads from within her.
~ ~ ~
The blackness expels her as if it is birthing, and a voice, not hissing or angry, lingers behind her. I thank you for the return, and for the many demons this day you’ve created. Especially that other, your brother, your son. Then she’s suddenly spinning. All around her is light.
At first she believes herself in the Web. Then slowly awareness seeps and fills her. It’s an odd perception that rather she is the Light. Has she known it before? Yet this tastes of the first time. It smells new and right.
Another strangeness she perceives: For all her glory she’s scarcely aglow, a babe, a mere mite.
Wilfully she expands, growing through increments barely perceptible until she becomes an intensely blinding bright light. Now by her light she can see, and she sees she isn’t alone. Beneath her, behind her, she sees her begetter, her father, her mother, her parent, her bearer: the Dark. And that Dark is as dense as her light is intense.
She suspects something is hiding in there, in that darkness. But whatever it is she can’t see it and in not seeing she fears it. She shines her light on it . . . but then along with the darkness it’s gone. She retracts her light and the darkness returns and with it the ominous presence within it. She shudders in dread of it and flees hoping then to be rid of it. But whatever it is, the wretched thing follows. She runs . . . And still it is there. She turns in circles . . . Tail-like it follows. However she tries she can’t be rid of it. Then she just has to accept it will always be there.
She spins, hoping thus to shake the feeling away—and with her spinning she’s aware of something within her that’s now spinning away. How strange. She looks and sees it’s another like her. Born from within her, it is her and yet is without her. How curious, she has become two, and both parts are her, both are Light. Yet she is Wind, this other is Fire. Yes, it is so.
Together, her two parts of Light—Wind and Fire—spin upon the Dark. Back and forth they dance and weave together, their feet a constant tap-patting. And thus from the Dark a hard and knobbled whit is freed—she claims it freed. Solid this, and unmoving, drab and lifeless without colour.
She as Wind breathes upon it and causes movement in the lifeless rock. She as Wind cries, for though it is spinning it’s still not alive. Those tears descending in splashes, form puddles, pools and springs of water—which in turn turns the rock’s dusty coat to mud—from which emerges an abundance of juicy green swards.
~ ~ ~
Awaking, Kerrid wanted to be on her feet and running not have Jiar’s arms closed tight around her.
“You’re alive,” he said, intense with feeling.
“Of course I’m alive. I am Wind, how can I be dead? And, Jiar, I’m the Spinner—but you must already know that. As Ypsi said: my breath brings life. And if I don’t give Paddlo his death rites NOW! Neka will steal that life from me. For it’s not only humans we created; it’s all of life!”
He looked at her, his eyes surprise-widened . . . then he nodded. “Yes, I guessed of the Spinner, even before. But you’re still flesh and blood and you’re not going out there.”
It was then she noticed around her: blackest night. She noticed too Jiar’s fawn-leather shirt soft against her. He tried to rock her, despite her struggles to be free.
“But, Jiar, the fight is over so why shouldn’t I go? You don’t understand how urgent this is.”
“It’s not the fight. I’ve other reasons.”
He leaned back against the cart’s solid wheel, pulling her with him, not letting her free. But the heat of him was too much and a dozen musicians had set up in her head and were banging like a feast-day celebration. She had to have air, clean and cool on her face, around her neck—everywhere.
“I thought this time you surely were dead,” he said—and it was there in his eyes and his voice that he had cried.
“But death doesn’t want me, you must have noticed. And much as I’d like to be in your arms, if I don’t return to Lohanit our fight will have served for nothing. Now please let me go.”
“No, Precious Lady, no. You might be alive, and the Spinner but you still need to rest.”
“Fine,” she said, and snuggled against him, and waited.
She felt his nod, it rocked through his chest. So he thought her now acquiescent. She felt his hold of her weaken. She waited yet further, until she felt his arms loosened about her. She could almost see the contented smile on his lips. And she’d be content too were it not for the need to claim Paddlo’s spirit before it sank to the Abyss.
Though she’d not yet recovered her strength she was again up on her feet. But Jiar was as quick and his arms again wrapped around her. She batted and pushed him.
“But, Lady, you are far from healed.”
“Look, I stand, I walk, I talk: I am healed.” Yet her legs wobbled as if they preferred not to stand. And her head reeled, everything around her in a spin. Moreover, she seemed to be seeing through water. Yet if she squinted she just could make out a blurring of lights that must be Lohanit. For a moment she forgot about Paddlo and thought instead of her sons. Her belly clenched with dread. She shivered.
“My stubbornest Lady, how fast do you expect to be healed when your neck was broken and your heart and lungs torn? You were dead, I tell you. This time you were dead.”
“No,” she denied him. “I am the Spinner, I cannot die. Jiar, think of it: the divines need me alive. That’s why they cut me, divided me, to separate the Spinner and me.”
He nodded assent. “Yet this fleshly form, though Asaric, is weak, its healing is yet incomplete.”
She heaved a great frustrated sigh, the Wind gathering force to blast out a hurricane. “Jiar, I need. To go. To Lohanit. Before it’s too late.”
“You. Need to rest,” he retorted. “Before ever you set a foot out there.”
She hissed at him, a weak expression of her frustration. His intention was good—it was just that his ‘calm’, ‘wait’ and ‘rest’ did nothing to answer the situation.
“The rain’s holding off,” she remarked—which wasn’t a change in her attention. And it didn’t surprise her, though the clouds were thick above the plain, casting all into featureless dark. It was as if those clouds were holding their breath for whatever was still to happen.
“Rain or no rain, you are not heading back to Lohanit yet,” Jiar said, his voice tight with held-annoyance. “You will wait here for the dawn.”
“Explain,” she said. “Why? And don’t say of ‘rest’ for you could support me, offer an arm.”
“The darkness,” he said as if that was enough. “Everything now is waiting on dawn.”
“But, Jiar, the fighting is done—oh, do I take it we won? But what’s now happened to the dead?” Why didn’t he understand? The slain, too, must have death rites, and that before the end of next day. These things couldn’t wait, not with Neka so eager to claim them. She listened. Strange, she could hear no grunts and hisses of vultures feeding. She sniffed at the air. It didn’t smell sweet. Blood and spilled guts, no funeral pyres yet.
“Jiar, ‘the dark’ doesn’t answer. We’re Asars, we have our own light. But . . . well, you stay here if you like, I’m returning to Lohanit.”
He turned suddenly stern. He snatched hold of her arm. “You will wait here.”
She pried loose his fingers. “I’m walking, I said.”
“I see you’ve returned from the dead without any sense!”
She glowered at him. “And I see you don’t understand my hurry. You’ve not even asked.” Even though she had told him of the death rites.
He said no more. He released his hold. He allowed her to go.
~ ~ ~
She felt bad for parting from him like this, with anger. She felt cold, too, away from his heat. She puffed out her chest—and winced. He was right, she wasn’t yet healed and she wasn’t yet strong. But how strong need she be? The fighting had ceased and though the night was black she had her light. Though a wind-Asar, her shimmer wasn’t as bright as Jiar’s could be.
A thousand worries arose within her, weaving and folding and keeping her company, mostly of Paddlo and Neka and her sons. She worried of which of her sons if any still lived. The last she’d seen . . . No, she didn’t want to remember . . . Whose flesh had she seen, parted and spraying? No! She must not think of it. Just walk. And what had happened to Meret? Had Neka killed him for the betrayal? Or had the Gimmrin? Had he shrivelled, perhaps, beneath the reflectors’ light? She bit her lip and again shivered.
And now she admitted this night-time venture was indeed foolish. She couldn’t walk fast in this unrelieved darkness. She may as well have stayed with Jiar. They could more easily run by dawn’s light. And her head kept reeling, thoughts coming and, before she could catch them, going. She had a slight notion she was thinking the same things over . . . over . . . again.
A hiss, loud and close, shattered her thoughts like ice under a hammer. She froze. Was that a snake? Her foot held awkwardly in mid-motion. What to do? Yet, on thought, a snake wasn’t possible. The hubbub, the commotion, the fray, what snakes had been on this plain would long have fast-darted. If only she could see in this dark but her shimmering exudation revealed too small an arc. She purposely puffed it out until it lit a wide circle. And now she saw it.
Black, dull, back and forth wound, its head drawn back, tensed ready to strike—and her foot hung above it.
She was an Asar, death didn’t want her. She was the Spinner, nothing could kill her. Yet that snake looked too much like Neka and the old fears ran through her.
Her body thawed, ready for action. She took a slow and careful step back.
~ ~ ~
“Now will wait until dawn?” Jiar shouted at her.
She called him some names, though under her breath, and he fetched her and guided her, his light being brighter.
“They’re everywhere,” he said—which he could have said sooner, acting all concern for her. “I reckon there’s one for every dead Asar. And they all look like Neka.”
“They’re an illusion, they must be. That one back there had no life-light.”
“Illusion maybe,” Jiar agreed. “But I’d rather be cautious and stay here until dawn. Imagine, one thousand of those things to wade through before you reach town.”
“What, a venomous illusion?” He almost chuckled. Then more gravely he said, “They’ve killed some of the Gimmrin’s horses.”
“Ouch, that’s a powerful illusion.”
“If they are an illusion.”
“But what else could they be?”
“Oh, Lady, you tell me. All I know, there’s one for every Asar dead.”
“Those of the host.”
“And how long now before dawn?”
“Oh, so the wise woman now wants to be wise?”
“I’d rather be walking but . . . as you say, caution.”
“And while we wait you can tell me of Paddlo. Yes, I admit I don’t understand.”
So she told him then of her expulsion from Neka’s deep realm. “—And he thanks us for returning him.”
“Him?” Jiar arched a brow.
“Well, no. In truth it ought to be ‘her’. The Dark gave birth to me and thus is my mother. And yet it’s my begetter, too, and thus is my father.”
“And as we know, there are no he’s and she’s amongst demons,” he teased her.
She laughed along with him as he’d intended. But soon she was serious again. “He called after me to thank me for the demons we’ve this day created. And, Jiar, if we don’t see to their death rites all those killed here will swell Neka’s numbers.”
“But most are Asars, they’ll be reborn.”
“It’s only we firstborn assured immediate rebirth. And even then, without the rites . . . no, I think not. But Neka said more than that, he said of Paddlo. And so I must tell you of our creation. And I don’t just mean humankind.”
She said of the spinning: how he as Fire was born from within her and separated from her as she spun.
“And haven’t you always said we were one.”
“Yes, but we’ve not been that since . . . well, not since the beginning.”
“The beginning—which beginning?” he asked, voice low—and then, the wretch, he kissed her fingers, one, two, three and along, causing deep turmoil within her.
“Stop it!” Yet she didn’t snatch her hand away. “Since the beginning of you as a separate being from me.”
“So you’re saying we both are Light, but that I am Fire and you are Wind?” He bowed his head, a slight inclination to acknowledge understanding. Though she’d part-expected it, he said nothing of this making of her his mother.
“And that’s why we can’t be together,” she said and bit her lip, not wanting to explain it.
He stopped kissing and looked at her.
“Not all of the time together,” she amended. “Yes, I yearn to be with you, a deep wanting ache. But it cannot be—your raging heat, it depletes me and if I stay there’ll be nothing left of me. Jiar, your flames feed upon me—they suck all the breath from me and then I am gone. You and no other can kill me. And so I must go. But then you in my absence are weakened, because your fire needs my breath. So you come to me with equal wanting. Jiar, you need me as I desire you. Without me, you wouldn’t exist. See, I and no other can kill you. Yet, only when you’re quiescent is it safe for me to come within reach. And then, whoosh, you blaze again as you feed upon me. And that is our dance, Jiar. First I am dying and then it is you. You consume me with your passion and I can’t breathe. But then what are you without me?”
“Lady, excuse me interrupting but we’re no more in the Realm of Divinities. Here we are hard flesh and hot blood, not Wind and Fire. Do you fear I’ve learned no control in this life, me, a wolfman? And have I not waited patiently for you?”
She nodded, yes, yes he had done that. He kissed her eyes, painful in his tenderness.
“But, Lady, don’t be deceived by that. There’s ample passion still burning for you—once you are healed. And I promise I won’t exhaust you.”
Again she nodded. This they would see.
“But,” she said, “you are not the end of my creation: you’re only my heart.” She told him then of the birth of Barega and how seeing her daughter/her sister lifeless, she had cried. “And those tears gave birth to Paddlo. He’s my son—that toad is my son.”
She remembered a Gusrikt feast-fable told in her child-days of how the Bitter One fetched his Mother’s tears, so plentiful they created the Boundless Sea. She’d thought then how Paddlo was much like the Bitter One. She’d not realised its truth.
“And, Jiar, from those tears sprang all life in this realm. And now he is dead, we have killed him. And if we don’t perform the death rites soon then Neka will have him. And that will be the end of all life.”
“And that’s why your hurry?”
“Without those death rites, Jiar, Neka has won. This battle will have been for nothing. And it was you and I who killed him.”
. _____ .
So the battle isn’t yet won. Neka could yet triumph and destroy not only humankind but all flora and fauna—all Life.
Next episode, tomorrow Death Rites