Roger Taylor: The call of the sword

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Roger Taylor The call of the sword
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    The call of the sword
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Roger Taylor

The call of the sword

"The time of Hawklan is so far in the past that it could be the distant future"


In the ninth hour of the Last Battle, Sumeral, war-ring with Ethriss in ways beyond the knowledge of men, gazed upon the pitiless slaughter being wrought by the two great armies and, wearying of it, was overwhelmed with a desire to seize at one stroke His final victory.

Then He left the high vantage where His Uhriel held at bay the Guardians, and with silver sword and golden axe cut a shining path of gore to the heart of the fray where stood the mortal frame of His enemy.

For Ethriss had come to the battle unarmed, lest concern for his mortal form distract him from his greater battle with Sumeral’s dark spirit. In the whirling agony of that day, while the army of the Great Alliance battled with His demented hordes, he stood alone, ringed only by his chosen Fyordyn High Guards. An Iron Ring of his oldest and most faithful allies. The least corrupted of men, and His greatest mortal enemies.

Nine hours they had stood unwavering as His raven-ing armies had broken over them like wind-whipped waves. But they were mortal, and they wearied, and at each onslaught they were fewer, and the Iron Ring shrank inexorably. Now a terrible fear came over them as His approach was seen, bright like the morning star through the swirling mist and smoke of that awful field.

For He was a glorious and radiant sight in His beauty and power, and all knew that mortal weapons would turn from His body, armoured as it was with the Power of the Great Searing from which He had come. And all knew that His gaze alone was beyond the will of any man to withstand.

But it is said that all things create the means of their own destruction.

So it was now. For in that grim circle was one who was of His creating. Old even then. Made old by His scornful, dismissive blessing. Old beyond loves and hatreds. Old in implacable resolution that He would be thrown down this day though it destroy the world.

And as He raised His spear in triumph to strike the blow that would make all His, Sumeral’s gaze fell upon the face of this one, and eyes He had long forgotten stared fearfully but uncowed into His very soul.

And He faltered.

In that timeless moment, His protection fell from Him, and His breast was pierced by a true Fyordyn arrow forged with Ethriss’s skill. Then another and another and another, thick through the death-stained air like a cleaning summer storm. And with a great cry His mortal body fell, and turmoil reigned as His Uhriel, bereft of His will, fell before the Guardians, and the earth and sky and sea were torn from their grasp. So too were scattered His mortal armies.

But in His falling, two things He did. His mortal hand loosed the spear that struck down Ethriss, and His spirit shrank and vowed and learned and hid in the hearts of His most faithful until some future time would come. For He knew that His ways lay now deep in the hearts of all men, and that as surely as He now fell, so He must rise again in the fullness of time.

* * * *

Even the gentle land of Orthlund cowered under that winter. The like had never been known in living memory. It seemed that almost every day there were dark clouds gathering in the north, like armies awaiting reinforcements. And when the howling winds brought them and their bloated burdens of snow relentlessly southward, the Orthlundyn were more than content to surrender their villages to the assault.

Content as they sat and talked and carved in the warmth of their homes, and were grateful for thick walls and stout roofs, and for the past summer that had given them a fine harvest and locked more than enough warm days into their flickering radiant stones to warm them through a dozen such winters.

Inevitably though, all things were dominated by this untypical manifestation. No conversation ended without some allusion to it, and virtually no carving was made during those months that did not enshrine some aspect of it. In most villages, the Carvers’ Guilds held equally untypical formal meetings. Some to discuss the new devices that were being discovered to capture the subtleties and richness of their new land. Some to discuss not only that but, horror of horrors, a rationing of stone, for there was no way into the mountains to replenish stocks, and even communication between villages had become difficult and dangerous. It became a time of the miniature.

On the days when it was bright and sunny, the Orthlundyn donned their warmest clothes and wan-dered through the snow-filled streets of their villages, revelling in the sight of the white, new-shaped fields, and their houses, now strangely decorated with bellying white eaves and wind-blown buttresses. And they would stand in open admiration of the splendour of the mountains-sharp, stern and forbidding in the tingling air.

The children learned new games and devilments and accidentally stored up bright white memories for future, balmier times. The wits founded the Snow Carvers’ Guild and filled the streets with strange creatures and carved likenesses of their neighbours, to the amusement of some and the considerable indignation of others.

Only at the very heart of the winter did a little con-cern creep darkly into the lives of these civilized people. A blizzard blew for seven consecutive days, howling and screaming and so hiding the world that it was folly to take but three steps from a threshold. Then, as the land was shaped and reshaped unseen, conversations faded, chisels were laid aside, and eyes turned pensively to hearths to seek stillness and reassurance in the flickering, summer-stored glow of the radiant stones.

At the height of this storm, high in the mountains where all was impassable, a figure appeared: a man. Wrapped in a long enveloping cloak with a deep hood pulled well forward, bowing against the pitiless, biting wind, he moved slowly through the grey swirling gloom.

Occasionally, finding some rocky outcrop, he would stop and rest for a while in its lee, straightening up, grateful for a brief respite. Then, wrapping his cloak about himself for greater warmth, he would move off again.

All around him the wind screamed and clattered and echoed through valleys and clefts, bouncing off ringing rock faces and hissing over the snow, to sound sometimes like the clamour of a terrible battle, some-times like the mocking laughter of a thousand tormentors, sometimes like a great sigh. From time to time the man paused and turned and listened.

That he was lost, he knew. But that was all he knew. That and the knowledge that, for all his cloak and hood were thick and warm, he would surely soon die in this fearful place if he did not come across shelter and warmth soon.

Then through the tumult around him came another sound. The man paused as though his own soft footsteps might obscure it. But it came again and again. Distant and shifting, but persistent. It was a cry. A cry for help.

The hooded head cast about for the direction from which it came, but the wind mocked him and brought it to him from every angle, now near, now far. Then for an instant the wind was gone. Dropped to a low sighing moan. And the plaintive cry rode on it like a distraught messenger, revealing its true self before the wind returned to rend and scatter it. The man turned and moved forward, ignoring the many wind-born counter-feits now tempting him elsewhere again.

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