Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Settled Dust, Part 12

A Continuing Haibun Cycle
By Patrick M. Tracy

Haike only had to pull the Dolgur along for a moment. As soon as they reached the tree line, it took off, trotting through the open vaults of the old forest quick enough that he had to jog to keep up. It never occurred to him that he could stop, that his intended task was finished, that the journey was over. He kept on, even as his legs ached and a painful stitch burned in his side. As with so many other discomforts, he ignored them. The pain itself had little power. It was only the fear of that pain that paralyzed the soul.

The forest's damp corridors smelled of long decay without benefit of the sun. The great trees, far apart and spaced evenly, seemed almost like columns of a great castle's hall, though they were far larger and older than any building of man. The cool and loamy ground beneath his feet made hardly a sound as Haike's feet churned away. Even the Dolgur's heavy trot wasn't enough to raise more than a dim noise. It seemed forever twilight here, a world without time, without days, without the frantic noises of wagon wheels and straining oxen. Here, there were no ill-tempered camels, no harsh words of men too drunk to be civil. This world, a quieter one, existed beyond the reach of society.

Even ignoring his body's limitations, Haike began to find it hard to keep pace with the Dolgur. Her mouth wide, the Dolgur's great fangs were coated with foam, and her breathing was like a turning wind. They had run for many miles, the country falling ever lower, until the trees had changed and the ground was soupy with moisture. The insects buzzed and rattled around them, but they ran too steadily for the bugs to bite at them much.

Haike thought that he would hurl up whatever remained of his last meal if he didn't stop, and at last, they did. The Dolgur's trot ebbed to a walk, and finally came to a halt. She looked out across a wide, shallow, algae-filled lake. Haike went to his knee, the breath coming hard into his lungs, the drum within his chest beating out a time beyond all rowing.

The Dolgur let loose a whistling, plaintive call, punctuated by a series of clapping gnashes of her teeth. She waited for some time, then did it again. From far off, across the lake and beyond Haike's view, he heard a similar reply. After a moment, yet another call answered, this time from somewhat closer.

“So you are home, and will meet your kin after the long journey,” he said. “So your voyage is done, all the strange luck of the winding road has left you intact. The Superbeings of the Coriyat are with thee, Dolgur, for the Ghost Society has marked you, and yet you live, shepherded by wolves, given mercy by the merciless.”

The Dolgur swung her eyes in his direction, giving him an odd little toss of the head. She nudged him, knocking him to the muddy earth. She took in his scent again, the wind of her breath against his hair, the closeness and power of her profound. She grunted and gave him a push, sending him tumbling across the ground. Haike found himself looking back up the gentle slope, back in the direction of his mistress and the human world. For a moment, his heart ached, wanting to be here, in the silence and purity of the wild, in the slow and eternal twilight of the trees.

This world, though, was not for him. He did not yet draw breath by some accident. No, his soul still had some dealings to do before he entered the Coriyat. He had been chosen, spared the convenience of dying, and given the chance to walk the perilous road another day. He had sworn, too, that he would expunge the debts of futility he had accumulated. He would learn the red arts of the Ghost Society, and he would be an instrument of their will. He had disobeyed his teacher once, but it would not happen again. The glance of a human eye could not bring about such frailty as the Dolgur had.

Haike arose. He put his hand on the Dolgur's snout, feeling the smoothness, the warmth of the armored scale. “As you wish, Dolgur. I will leave you. This world is yours, and I don't belong.”

She made a small sound, pushing him with her chin. Haike could feel the bulges where the venomous spines nestled, bolts more deadly than any arrow. The Dolgur made the small sound again. From nearer than it had been, another Dolgur called out. The sky waxed toward evening, and the dim green of the shallow lake painted the shoreline a weird color, like the magic of a forgotten race.

Bone tired, Haike made himself jog along the bank of a tiny stream. He could make hardly more than a quarter of mile before he slowed to a walk. As full dark fell, he threw himself at the stream's edge and thrust his mouth into the water like an animal. He would have a long trudge ahead of him at dawn. He had to return to Namira before she gave him up for dead. He knew that he could make it on his own, but he no longer wanted to.

In this silent world

where we will never be kings

lies a greater realm



Would that I could stay

far away from the harsh word

and the screech of wheels



Denied death's comfort

we must square the debts of wrath

from mercy, foresworn

4 comments:

drthunder said...

There's such beauty in these words . . . .! You're descriptions of the "other world" are, indeed, elegant!

swiftboat said...

Hi Patrick,

It's good to see another "Dust". This story is progresing well. I like the format. It's easy to imagine some sort of graphic illistration allong with each part. Perhaps with the short verse flowing around it...

Bobby-T said...

A very compelling adventure! I'm anxious to see the reunion of Haike & Namira.

Patrick M. Tracy said...

Doc,

Thanks. I'm mostly in the other world. I like it better.

Swiftboat,

Thanks. I have always seen this as an illustrated chap-book/novellette. Maybe simple line drawings or very understated photos on the facing pages.

Bobby,

Oh, it's going to happen. I need to write the next segment soon...

Thanks, everyone, for coming by.

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