Sunday, May 8, 2016
The Spear That Roars for Blood - Part 1
The Spear That Roars for Blood
"I am a Stag: of Seven Tines,
I am a Flood: across a Plain,
I am a Wind: on a deep Lake,
I am a Tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a Hawk: above the Cliff,
I am a Thorn: beneath the Nail,
I am a Wonder: among Flowers,
I am a Wizard: Who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?
I am a Spear: that Roars for Blood,
I am a Salmon: in a Pool,
I am a Lure: from Paradise,
I am a Hill: where Poets walk,
I am a Boar: Ruthless and Red,
I am a Breaker: threatening Doom,
I am a Tide: that drags to Death,
I am an Infant: Who but I
peeps from the unhewn Dolman Arch?
I am the Womb: of every Holt,
I am the Blaze: on every Hill,
I am the Queen: of every Hive,
I am the Shield: for every Head
I am the Tomb: of every Hope."
Robert Graves Celtic Bard’s riddle-poem
His breath came in great bellowing heaves; Arawn stopped and placed both hands upon his legs and let the air come and go from his lungs in a steady rhythm. Behind him came the pounding feet of several other runners. As they passed an old, oak stump alongside of the path, they stopped as well. He heard Nithad, the youngest of their patrol, cough and gag, unused to the daily run.
"Arawn," Ogmios sputtered, breathing hard but steady, "Arawn, you run like a hare. You're making us look bad."
Arawn laughed. "Good," he said. "Maybe that will make you run faster. How is Nithad?"
"Ask him yourself," Ogmios replied. "Hey Nithad! How are you doing?"
"... Do... ing... fine..." he gasped.
"At least he isn't sucking air like a fish out of water now," Airgedlamh declared.
"And this time he kept down his breakfast," added Llawereint, Airgedlamh's young brother.
"You’re one to talk," said Ogmios. "Six months ago you were just as fish-faced as Nithad."
"How are you doing, old man?" Airgedlamh asked Daghdha, the oldest of the rangers and Ogmios' father.
"I'll give you 'old man'!" answered Daghdha. "I don't run as fast, but I know how to pace myself. Who is it that taught you how to do as well, callow youth."
"Ha!" snorted Airgedlamh. "You taught us all, of course."
The six rangers took a slow walk to back their camp. They had set off from Gorakil only the day before following the course of the Aelphstream back upstream to its source, the mountain lake nestled amid the northwest arm of the Crowhorns. From there they would start an extended patrol of the mountains bordering the Duchy, fair Gilliad. It would be a month at least before they would come once again to settled lands and follow the Blue Oyt River back to their lowland homes.
Nithad was the youngest, green as his cloak, but bright and friendly. He was a quiet learner. Dagdha had to fhobe him to ask questions about what he did not understand, but Nithad was quick and picked up much with only a single telling. He had black hair cut short and a scruffy beard of youth, most of which grew under his chin. He was small, but strong, muscular, but not stocky. Ogmios joked that Nithad must have Aelphar blood.
Daghdha was the oldest, a greybeard. He'd been a Gilliad ranger when all the others had been mere babes. He was a tall man, pale-haired and grey-eyed, he wore a short beard and tied off a long braid of hair behind him in a tail. As he walked he rubbed a wide scar across his thigh, still red on a cold morning, a blue skinned giant had left its mark and nearly left him lame.
Ogmios, Daghdha's oldest son, was his father's pride and joy. Tall and broad of shoulder, brown haired like his mother’s side, with startling bright blue eyes.
Airgedlamh and Llawereint, five years separated them, but little else. Airgedlamh was the older of the pair. Both were dark, of average height and black-haired like their cousin Nithad. They shaved their faces every day, a custom brought back by Airgedlamh from eastern realms where he'd adventured in his early days.
Last came Arawn, he lead when Daghdha didn't. Tall but not overmuch, brown of hair and eye; Slim as a sapling, but stronger than any but Ogmios, the two were of an age.
All six dressed in browns and greens, woodsman’s garb. Each had sword and bow, and one small pack. They lived from off the land and never carried much. Over all this they wore a hooded concealing cloak of dark leaf-green.
They took only a short while to conceal the remains of their small hidden camp and then silently they faded one by one into the surrounding woods.
"Why don't we just take the road?" asked Nithad. He jumped from a boulder as he talked and landed hard on his feet, nearly twisting an ankle.
"Pay attention! Curse you!" Ogmios shouted as quietly as he could. "All we need is to start a patrol and have to turn back the first day carrying you with a broken ankle."
Arawn came back from scouting ahead and called to the pair. "What's the hold up?"
"We're coming, we're coming," Ogmios muttered. "The leprechaun here nearly broke an ankle jumping off this rock."
"Hey, what do you mean leprechaun?" Nithad asked with the premonition that it was nothing he would like.
"Because you're just as green," answered Ogmios.
They made good time through the forest though the road would have been quicker. How do you train a ranger? Not be walking along a road, but by running through the pathless woods.
"We are leaving a trail a goblin pup could follow," Arawn told Daghdha.
"Nithad," Daghdha stated with a grin. "Well he's here to learn, and we to teach."
"Oh, Ogmios will have him knocked into shape by the end of this patrol, I do not doubt," Arawn replied. "But I do miss Gwern."
"Wounds of the heart are a deeper cut then of the flesh," Daghdha said and without a thought rubbed at his own mere visible scar. "In any case we would have needed to take a leprechaun with us. They have to be taught and the best place to learn is on patrol."
"No need to tell me. I remember my own first stumbling steps through these hills and mountains," smiled Arawn in answer.
From up ahead, Airgedlamh, who had taken the lead, came back drifting through the wood, half seen like a green-brown ghost.
He gestured for silence and went to Daghdha then whispered out his report.
"Hobs," Daghdha said with vehemence, he hated the beasts, "a large band, and goblin archers. I counted several score."
"Heading our way?" asked Arawn.
"Not directly," Airgedlamh explained. "They are avoiding the road, as are we, but are heading further north-east. If we stay here they will pass us by."
"Perhaps," and Daghdha smiled, "but we will not be staying here. They will pay a toll to cross our path, in blood. How many hobs were in this band?"
"Two score at least, all dressed for war and carrying heavy packs," answered Airgedlamh.
"Enough to make us very cautious indeed, but not enough to make me want to split our number to carry back word to Gorakil," Daghdha said.
"What of Pelor's Keep?" Arawn inquired.
"I will have words for them and Penard'un. Her own patrols should have intercepted this little band," Daghdha said angrily.
"Such a small warparty may have slipped past unnoticed," Arawn suggested.
As they talked the other rangers joined them. Llawereint stood beside his brother while Ogmios and Nithad came last.
"What's going on?" asked Nithad.
"Shh..." Airgedlamh hushed him and Ogmios slapped his head.
"Ouch!" Nithad cried.
"Hobs ahead," Daghdha told the latecomers. "Forty or so and sixty or more of their rat-faced goblin-kin."
"Good!" said Ogmios. "This one," he nodded to Nithad, "needs to blood his sword and bow."
"Six against a hundred!" Nithad was aghast.
"Six rangers to plague their path," said Llawereint with pride.
"Do not be scared," said Airgedlamh "We will keep you safe," he laughed.
"Hey, do not spoil his good sense," said Ogmios. "I'd rather have a cautious recruit over a dead one."
"Yes, they are many, Nithad, but strung out across these woods," Arawn told him. "We will not face them as a soldier would, two armies spread across an open field. No, instead we will cut their numbers down, first by stealth, then more openly if the chance arises."
"If we cannot kill them all, we will set them running back to their mountain home," said Daghdha. "But let’s try to kill them all."