Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Settled Dust, Part Four

A Continuing Haibun Cycle

A young woman ran around the woodpile and nearly collided with the boy. Her dark face was pinched with fear and sweat stains circled low from her underarms.

“What are you doing back here, boy?”

He turned his pale eyes to her and said nothing.

The woman shook her head and ran past him, gathering up two wood axes, a splitting wedge, and a heavy bronze maul. She could hardly carry it all under one arm, and the boy thought that she'd end up dropping an axe on her foot if she weren't careful.

She came and grabbed his hand. Her sweaty, muddy palm clenched against his and he set his teeth. She pulled, but he crouched low and dug in his heels.

“Well, are you coming? There's a monster coming up the road!”

The boy shook his head. She smelled like fear, like someone who would die soon. He wouldn't go with a person like that. He didn't run when others ran. “No. I am no goat, to run away, bleating,” he growled at her. He bared his teeth like an animal.

She released him, spitting in his direction. The boy ducked, the spittle flying beyond his right shoulder and landing against the woodpile. “Fine! One less fool for the world when the dolgur eats you!”

She ran down toward the road, ungainly, nearly falling twice. The boy left his hidden seat behind. There was a commotion at the far edge of town. Seeing the action was more important than remaining hidden. Hiding from fate availed a man nothing. His people spoke this maxim, even to the young. It had never occurred to the boy that it may have been untrue.

He could see nothing but the dust rising into the air and settling further down the valley, but he knew that there were a dozen men down there, armed with whatever weapon they could put their hands on. At this point, he could hear the faint mutter of bowstrings. He had seen the fletchings on the hunter's arrows. Sloppy. Their arrows carried flint tips and were no good against anything larger than deer.

A roar shook the valley, the roar of something huge and formidable. The men of the village were not great warriors. They would have run, had they been afforded time enough. As it was, they would have to fight the dolgur off and try to give the others time to flee. They would all be killed. Their warcraft would betray them to their deaths. He shook his head. How had he come to be thrall to such as these? If he lived to manhood, he would have many dishonors to put right.

Those not in the fray were loading wagons and leashing oxen to them as quickly as they could. One old man tried to batter his ox into the traces, hitting the beast about the shoulders and back with a heavy stick. Bellowing, the ox turned, knocked him down with one wag of its shaggy head, and stepped down on his groin with all its weight. He shrieked for several moments before passing out. The ox trotted away up the road and was gone. Others ignored the fallen man, leashing yearling camel hardly large enough to pull the car and clattering off at walking pace.

Many of the townsfolk had no cart or camel to ride, and so were jogging up the road with their few valuables in hand. The boy didn't imagine that they'd get far. Beyond the town lay a lawless frontier, with towns far apart and roads hardly more than timber trails. If the dolgur didn't hunt them down, they would fall to brigands or the rigors of the wild.

The noise from the edge of town transformed into shouting. The shouting lasted a very short span before it turned to screaming. The defenders, all three who remained able enough to run, came pelting down the road, joining the retreating refugees and urging them to greater speed.

There were a good number of oldsters who couldn't move quickly enough or walk far enough to make it to the next town. They hid in their huts and houses. The boy could hear the sound of the dolgur as it smashed a tanner's hut to flinders and sifted the debris for the old man inside. He could only see its dun-colored flank, but the sheer strength and mass of the thing fascinated him.

“So it's a dragon,” he whispered to himself. Somehow, he did not feel compelled to run. He had been born aganan ven jula. “To be without fear.” Amongst his people, it was considered a special sign from the spirit world.

The sound of the tanner's screams lasted only a moment. The boy saw what looked like an arm or a leg fly upward into the air, and it was over. The body of a man seemed solid, but came apart as easily as a wilting flower sometimes.

With all the calm and patience of a craftsman, the dolgur went from one house to the next, smashing them to bits and killing their occupants. The boy thought that the creature had to be the weight of four or five camels, a squat, heavy creature with legs the size of oak trees. Its blunt head was so armored that it could rap its chin against a thick door and knock it flat. The unskilled warriors hadn't done so much as scratch its hide with their spears and dull axes of bronze.

The boy was so intent on watching the dolgur's deliberate massacre, he forgot to hide behind the wood pile. When the creature had done for the ox-maimed man down on the road, it swung its blunt head in his direction. At that moment, he remembered that he was part of this, part of the village, like it or not.

“Spirits of the Leonen, let me go with my grandfathers,” he prayed. “Let me not be alone in the dark hereafter.” Even now, there was no fear. His little hands clenched.

The dolgur walked toward him, each footfall shaking the earth. Its snout was streaked with blood, its small eyes regarding him with predatory interest.

These are not warriors
their sweaty hands clenched against
sure and sudden death

Ignore their bleating
these dead goats, still on the hoof
all purpose thwarted

We are not solid
ephemeral as flowers
dead between each breath

In life's grasping claw
we cannot be spectators
but only actors

The fearful and brave
both find homes within the dark
finally equal

5 comments:

drthunder said...

I'm really enjoying this, Patrick. I'm even getting something of a kick out of waiting for the next installment. Glad that I don't have to wait tooooo long, though.

Sara said...

I'm enjoying this immensely, too, Patrick. I think this segment is my favorite so far -- which is only as it should be.

Fun, fun, fun. Thank you.

Bobby-T said...

Awesome! This is an exciting tale that really stirs the blood. Looking forward to more.

Rachel S. Barth said...

This is excellent stuff, all four installments. Very, very interesting, moving. Quite a depth of business backing up the action as well. Also, I'm digging the Haibun format. I kinda feel as though it'd be cool to buy a book like this, part story, part poetry, with some beautiful illustrations to round it out.

Patrick M. Tracy said...

Doc,

Thanks. I'll have to get to work on the next installment.

Sara,

Thanks for coming over! I felt like the haiku segment of this one turned out better than the rest. I'm glad it seems to be getting better to you. Hope to see you here again soon.

Bobby-T,

...and more you shall have, er, pretty soon.

Rachel,

Glad you enjoy it. I'll have to quote you when I'm mailing out the book proposal...hey, it could happen! I'll have to find an illustrator.

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