He was the one who would become King. King of all the world and beyond. They would pray to Him in their hovels. They would sacrifice their firstborns to Him without ever even meeting the name they whispered in the shadows. They all knew where you could find Him. Every ten miles or so there was an entrance to His maze of a kingdom just beneath the surface of the world. There were stories from the time before, the time of wars between kings and nations, the time of gods and their followers. Stories of the one that would become King. King of the Gods. King of the People. The Everlasting King. Stories of the one they called Skat.
~From the Historicus Eternum
It was raining. It had been raining for weeks. The rains were good and welcome to the peoples of the low plains. During the season, as was tradition, they gathered for fellowship to get out of the fertility of the world, if only for a moment. There they sat, talking, laughing, waiting for their turn at the pipe. The evening was nearing the time for the Mother to appear. She only attended these moots on the night of the full moon. This was the first since the rain began and as such, was one of the sacred gatherings to the People. The tribes had been gathered.
The herd started a low moan outside the hut and as the Mother entered with her Mooncalf attendants, the call was echoed throughout the room. She had come. The time had come.
Her skin hung from her bones, wrinkled and pink with dark purple sun spots that belied her age as one that had long walked the flows of time. Her dark brown eyes peered almost unseeing around the room, focusing on a warrior here, a chieftain there. Finally her eyes found rest on the circle in the middle of the mud hut. The circle, a gift of the ancients, stood the test of time as the oldest tradition of the People. Silence filled the hut.
The Mother slowly approached, with only the creaking of her bones and the rattle of her stick to accompany her steps. When she reached the edge of the circle, she fell to her knees and kissed the ground, hallowing it in a breath. Her hand darted to a satchel at her side, one among many. Some were filled with herbs for healing, others poisons. This pouch, unlike any of the others, contained only the future.
She threw the contents into the circle and as the bones clattered against each other, her eyes darted around, reading that which was written for her alone to read. Ribs, some whole, some broken, some human, some not, tumbled from the bag. Each touch a new future unrealized, every collision one collision closer to their final resting place.
A deep low escaped her lips, reverberating to the very core of all who gathered. Hope was there, yet fear followed once the hope dissipated. It was as if fate had written its own end.
She pointed at the bones as she spoke, the words of prophecy strangely soothing, “The time has come for the horns to be locked once again. Battle will find us even if we do not seek it. They will come from the waters, from the cities, from the sky. They will come to the plains, to the deserts, to the mountains, to the forests. They will come to find us wherever we hide. An emerald will be hidden from them, within the emerald a great fire. The fire will purge us and our enemies. It will cleanse us and scour our foes. It will leave nothing untouched in its insatiable hunger. A child will be born that will lead us against our tormentors. He shall anoint the worthy with the blood of our captors, from now until the stars cease to shine.”
They all watched, silent, as she said the words of portent. They all watched, silent, as minutes passed not knowing what to say. Finally, a great cry went up in the corner of the hut. It was a chieftain of a visiting Mountain Tribe, Do’ran.
“By the wind and snow, this news is great indeed. It is right and just that we should crush our enemies!”
His tribesman echoed his exuberance and a cry went up among them. The People of the Plains were taken aback, but then it was to be expected. The ways of the Mountain Tribe were strange. Do’ran continued his interpretation of the words. “Far too long we have been under the thumb of fear. Fear for our calves. Fear for our crops. When the child is upon us, we will fear no longer. Instead it will be us who shall be feared.” Again the cheer went up from his cadre, with some of the People of the Plains picking up the cry as it rippled through the small gathering.
Those who remained silent had dour shadows that crossed their faces. They looked among themselves, not wanting to share what they had read in the words. One by one, their gaze fell on their chieftain, Lin’fal of the Deserts. He was young, younger than this chieftain of the Mountain, but his eyes had great age in them. He stood, taking the pipe as he did. Lin’fal walked to the circle drawing the eyes and silence of all those gathered as he helped the Mother up. He inhaled on the pipe, carefully considering the words in his head before he spoke them.
“By the bones and briars, the child will be a great boon to the People. He will indeed crush our enemies with his eternal fire. He will cleanse us as he scours our foes. He will deliver us from our bonds. But first brother, as you seem to be missing, we must be put into bondage for us to be delivered. They will come to us. They will find us where we hide. After decades of peace won by years of blood, they will come back. To the Deserts. To the Mountains. To the Plains and the Forests. To all of the places of the People, once again, the Humans will come.”
Ͼ Ѻ Ͽ
The storms had grown stronger. It had been raining for weeks, but the rains were good and welcome to the Peoples of the Forest. The fertility the sky brought to the land rebounded throughout the birthing chamber of the temple that night. Mooncalf Ma’dea was well practiced and was not perturbed by the rains in the slightest.
It is good for the child to be born of the rain, she thought. Better, sure, then to be born in a time of drought.
A grimace crossed her face as she remembered the years of famine that had struck the herd when she was no more than a calf herself. She remembered the hollow eyes and empty stomachs. Luckily, she had survived the worst of it and her own stomachs were full now.
The High Mother cried out again in labor. Her cries were becoming more regular and rivaled the very thunder outside. She bellowed with the fury of her collective people. She gripped Mooncalf Ma’dea by the wrist as froth began to form in her nostrils from the pain. She was still young and this would be her first birthing. The calving would take hours and was already very painful. Ma’dea smoothed the Mother’s brow and reassured her with a glance. It was enough. High Mother R'hea closed her eyes and waited for the next contraction. She is strong, thought the Mooncalf.
Ma’dea knew the time was surely upon her as natural rhythm was about to peak. The Mother would calve, and soon. She went about double checking her supplies by sight as she got into position to receive the calf. Hot towels. Fresh water. Calving chain. Mineral oils for lubrication. Her wits. Dilation was complete and she readied the chain. The calf was coming into view as R'hea bellowed again.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Instead of the hands and head she expected, forcing its way out was rump and tail.
The calf was not presenting forward. Ma’dea had only one other experience with a breech birth and it had not ended well. Moving quickly, Ma’dea attempted to push the calf back in to reposition its hind for a more efficient delivery, but she could feel by the resistance that the calf was firmly in the birth canal. It was all happening so fast. Too fast. The Mother could feel it too, physically and mentally. She saw the reassurance of Mooncalf Ma’dea melt into terror and hurry as her calf advanced out her body. Ma’dea grabbed towels as blood began to flow. Fresh blood. Blood of the High Mother. She could staunch the flow no better than she had been able to reposition the calf. Within moments, as if the calf was in a hurry to begin life in a torrent of death, the birth was over. Both the blood and calf of the Mother were in the hands of Mooncalf Ma’dea.
R'hea had life still in her eyes as she looked to her mewling calf. He was covered in fur blacker than a moonless night, slick with sheen. She beckoned for him and the Mooncalf placed the calf in her outstretched arms before turning back to the prolapse that was bleeding profusely from more tears than she could see. The High Mother began to cry. Ma’dea could see the joy there. And the fear. R'hea motioned for the Mooncalf to come closer. Her time was short and she knew it.
“Protect him. Do not let Mar’duk find out it was a boy. Do not let my last act end before it has begun. Swear it to me.”
Ma’dea swore, “By the stones and trees of the forest.”
“Yes! Teach him the ways of stones and trees. Teach him the ways of the Mooncalf.”
“Such knowledge is forbidden, High Mother!” gasped Ma’dea.
“Do it. Do it in my memory. Do not fail that which is all that is left of me. My baby bull . . . such beautiful eyes.” The High Mother smiled as the calf began to sleep in her arms.
Ma’dea asked only because she could think of no better question, “What shall be his name, my lady?”
“His name . . . his name shall be . . . E’Schat . . .” She smiled at her own joke as the light faded from her eyes. By the time Mooncalf Ma’dea had realized the irony of the High Mother in her final moment, the moment had passed and she was with the ancestors.
E’Schat. “The End.” It was the beginning of The End.
The child smiled. The lightning flashed. His eyes sparkled, glowing greener than the forests around them.