Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Songs of War

I would imagine most authors have a story that they wrote at some point in their careers that they don't really know what to do with. Here's mine.

by J.B. Cameron

Like all warriors of House Thonneviir, I hold no fear of death. I just find it irksome that I missed my chance to drag the corpse of the Earther Commander, Derek Sunderland, to the gates of Sturmlok with me. I die a good death. The stormpike in my midgullet and the silent dead surrounding me serve as proof. I know that I have no cause to bleat like a mewling kelwyna over what might have been. Yet as I breathe my last, gazing up at the invader's ships burning in the skies over K'turis, I pray that Gorimirr will pardon my weakness and grant me this final boon before I stand before Him in his crystal halls. Before I close my eyes at last, let my blades cross my enemy's in the life to be. Let us dance in blood for our very souls at the steps of the eternal fortress. I will offer the OldBlood his head as payment for my entry into their clanfast.

Our war with the Earthers is into its fifth glorious suntide, with casualties mounting on both sides. I'll leave it up to the chroniclers to say who drew first blood. All I cared about when it began was that my veshoon was sharpened and hungry to taste enemy flesh once again. Our campaign against the Telasi was so very long ago. As I grew soft in the teeth, I feared that I might never know a warrior's death before my time came.

Thanks be to the Earthers - pale-faced, ugly little clever things. Not our strongest foe, but certainly our most tenacious. Their knack of ripping victory from the jaws of defeat seemed to never end. Our warmasters probably never suspected that the day would come when we would see our skies filled with their primitive vessels, yet here we are.

I have sons still fighting. As I lay here like an old wumpus, my back broken and my lifeblood soaking into the cold ground, I wonder if any of them are piloting the H'kari fighters that are festooning the invading crafts with fire and smoke. Aardril, Pelagis, and Hurkm - good boys all, and proud fighters. They'll make excellent warmasters themselves one day. Assuming they survive this battle.

"Mad'eki Khumas, Oedgai Jorun," a voice sighs in my ear. "You yet live?"

My eyes focus with some effort on the sight of Kedlas Unsung, youngest boy of House Darvonl. He is still unnamed, and will so remain until he tastes first blood many suntides from now and proves himself worthy of his heritage. Like the others his age, he serves the war in other capacities. He's too young to be a scout, yet too old for a nest ward. I spot the symbol of the H'kiri, the patron of health and longevity, on his banditas, and know that he is here to rob me of my chance to share my tales of glory with the OldBlood.

"Mad'eki Khumor, Kedlas," I reply with a dry voice. "Keep your arts from my blade. I'll not have your youngling blood spoiling the treasure I've earned this day."

"You do not wish to be healed?"

I cracked a smile at the boy's foolishness. "I could not wish for a better day to die," I answer him earnestly.

"Very well. Shall I sit and keep watch for you?"

I nod. The pain and coldness running through my body tells me his vigil will be a short one.

"Look there," I croak, nodding towards the heavens.

The boy tilts his head and peers up with eyes still full of youthful wonder. The skies are awash with fire and the sights of Earther crafts dropping like mugslugs from a bandoole tree. Were it not for the metal pole stealing breath from my body, I would sing in celebration.

"That was once me up there. I can still remember the taste of hot metal as my H'kari cannons tore through the hulls of my enemies like a blade through fresh gurvak. I envy you, boy. To be sharpening your teeth fresh. You have so much fight left to look forward to."

"I am unsure..."

I gaze over at his troubled expression. The look does not belong on a face so young.

"Timal and Kedwyn," he moaned. "We have lost them already in this war with the Earthers. They died as warriors, yet I saw the tears shed by my madem, and wonder if that is truly enough."

"They defended the glory of your House."

"Their deaths only weakened our House. Without their blades to protect us, what are we now?"

"They will never die, child. The K'turi will sing of their victories until..."

"I don't want their songs. I want my brudhae. It was wrong of them to die so soon. They were supposed to teach me to be strong like them. Now I'm all that's left. When I die... when I..."

The boy buries his face into his arms and weeps. I avert my gaze to the sky. His tears cheapen the glorious deaths above. Out of respect for his House, I allow the indignity. He is but Unsung, after all. In time, he will learn better.

"Hear me, boy."

I wait patiently as his tears run their course and he presents his full attention.

"The OldBlood have set this course before us. To abandon it is to disgrace all that we are. To accept life in service to the OldBlood is to accept death into your hearts. Your brudhae knew this, and did their duty courageously. They now sit with the OldBlood in Gorimirr's great hall, in expectation of one day seeing us join them. Would you turn your back on your brudhae in favor of a coward's death in the pits of Vor?"


"Look around you, boy. See the bodies of the slain seeping into this land. This is who we are. We are the kin of the OldBlood. Death has no sway upon us, as long as we keep a strong hand, sharp teeth, and steady hearts."

I nod to the skies. The child follows my gaze.

"No matter who our enemies are. No matter how crafty or powerful their armies may be. We fight to the last, because to do any less would make us less. It would make us like them. That is why you must remain strong, too."

Kedlas peers at me with moist, questioning eyes. He reminds me of my own sons.

"Your brudhae need you to carry their songs for them, so that you may one day sing them, along with your own, in the crystal halls of our ancestors. Save your tears for that happy moment when you join them again."

"Alhuak, Oedgai Jorun," the child replies solemnly with his head bowed. "My thanks."

"Now leave me, youngling. Go off in search of others whose song you may yet save. Mine comes to an end."

Kedlas rises to his feet, before his eyes land on something that causes his young face to pale in fear. I turn my head, ignoring the agony wracking my tired body. A groan alerts me to the fact that not all around me are as dead as they seem.

The Earther soldier struggles to regain his footing. He's likely tall for his kind, but his bearing is no greater than that of the dumbstruck child gaping next to me. Were I capable of moving, I could dispatch him easily. I despise the notion of simply lying here; waiting to die at my enemy's convenience, but there is nothing I can do about it. If that is Gorimirr's will, then it would seem that the ancestors are not without a sense of humor.

Then I hear another sound, a more familiar ring to my ears. It is the sound of the Ashoki, the ancient battle cry. From the days when the OldBlood laid waste to their enemies on the battlefield, its clarion call has ever roared at the apex of battle, resounding in the throats of the K'turi. It is the timeless cry to unite our spirits and chill the blood of our foes.

I never imagined that I would ever hear it coming from an Unsung.

The Earther jerks in fear, his dazed senses fighting to return. His hand flies to the gun at his hip. Wounded or not, it won't be long before he has his wits about him. When that happens, the field of glory will have a new soul to claim.

I look to Kedlas. The boy fights to summon the battle rage within him, but the Unsung hasn't the teeth for war. If I don't help him, he will surely die without ever finding his song.

"Quickly, boy!" I shout at him. "Pluck the spear from my body and attack! Remember the songs of your brudhae!"

He doesn't think about his actions. That is good. Perhaps this Unsung may yet prove his worth as a warrior. He howls in battle lust as he rushes to my side and yanks the protruding stormpike from my pierced corpse. My world fills with pain as I feel its sharp edge rip me anew.

This is a good death I feel welcoming me. My vision blurs to the sight of my people hammering the Earther ships above into slags of burning metal. The screams of battle and pain lull me to rest. I close my eyes. I will not open them again until they behold the gates of Sturmlok.

I wonder which of them will be following me: the Unsung or the Earther. Perhaps I will bide my time outside Gorimirr's realm to find out. My hopes are that the Unsung wins the day. Yet should he fail, I will be there to vouch for him to the OldBlood.

The boy may be Unsung, but he has teeth as sharp as any warrior I've known.