I have no memory of any (if any) plot I had for this story, and it's less than inspiring writing, but I may come back to it someday.
Okuzanbe was once free and without borders. The people ran the miles of grassy planes unhindered, following the wild deer and chasing rainbows through waterfalls until they could neither run nor be carried any more. For generations the stories passed down were full of discoveries and the joys found in nature, simple tales woven around simple observations and plenty of good food. 300 years ago, elders from many different clans gathered together, discovering that many people could accomplish much more together, that with one person to weave another could focus on food and another could paint masterpieces with previously unaffordable time. After a generation of planning a government was set to rule over all the clans, and the Parliament of Okuzanbe was chosen. The Parliament split Okuzanbe into 8 Provinces, or Territories, each of which had a king to govern them. The king took care of local matters, and took all matters of law and things dealing with other Territories, such as trade customs, from the hand of the Parliament. For more than 200 years this system was without flaw, and Okuzanbe continued to flourish. No man, woman, or child was in need of food or toys, and most of the population was educated enough to make frequent use of the highly-coveted libraries. Crime was almost non-existent, and most adults could handle a staff well enough to defend themselves against invaders. No one ever invaded Okuzanbe.
In 517, twenty years ago, the king ruling Chatizan Territory died suddenly on a pilgrimage to a great shrine. It was custom for a new king to be chosen by the Parliament, a process which could take months. While the Parliament was considering its options, the widow of this king took up her husband’s crown and set herself upon the throne. She gave herself no title, only authority in command of all her husband’s land and soldiers. At first the people followed her because they had no other ruler and she was wise, learned in the ways of governing. Later they obeyed her because she had shown her true colors and earned the title of the Blood Queen. In these short years she has conquered and subdued three Provinces that now fly her flag above their lands, and she shows no intention of stopping. The Parliament has raised brave soldiers from the Provinces to turn her forces back, but their morale and numbers are breaking. It won’t be long now before Okuzanbe is consumed with the terror and inefficiency that is total rule by arms, rule by the Blood Queen.
Chapter 1: A Sense of Death
(he goes through the elements, fire, water, air, earth, and thought.)
I can’t see. The smoke hurts my eyes, and I am blinded by my own pain. Oh, my Searra. I can swing this sword around, hoping I hit an enemy soldier, but the forest fire is spreading. I must get out soon or I’ll burn. Like my Searra shall. The hurt of my leg, sliced off uncleanly at the knee, is nothing compared to the pain of her parting. We signed ourselves on as soldiers knowing the fates that awaited us, but my wife should not have died. Mere moments have passed since her warm blood splattered across my face, a gaping hole in her chest, but already the emotions — shock, disbelief, anger — have passed through, leaving a throbbing grief. I jump aside, dodging a mace, and plunge my sword through the man’s back, feeling him collapse. A burning branch falls, and I hit it with my sword to send it into the enemy lines. What lines? Everyone is fleeing the scalding heat. The impact of the hit breaks my sword at the hilt — worthless hunk of metal! I take up the mace, and turn to the last man present. On observation, however, I see that might be hard, for I am the last man. I turn to flee, but a glint of something green catches my eye. Searra’s killer, dead by my knife, dropped something as he died, and now I can see it. Searra always wore the emerald around her neck, having refused to sell it even when we almost joined our children in starvation. I pick it up and squeeze it hard, feeling its uncut edges slice into my whole palm. Now I will run. I don’t know if I will escape with my life, especially since I can’t really run — I hop, trying to ignore the pain in my fire-cauterized leg. The mace is sturdy and long, I use it to help me limp along. Fire singes me all around, and I feel as sunburned as a bad day in the field. It’s so hot... everything is burning. My mind is full of the image of Searra’s golden hair consumed by the flames. Tears stream down my cheek, offering some relief to the burns. I will never make it out alive.
Hot, hot, everything is burning. There goes my black hair, which Searra loved to run her hands through. My jacket is full of burned holes, and it saddens me. Julia had sewn it for me, her precise stitching ever meticulous. Anne had helped her with the buttons, using the little stones Benny collected. All gone, now. And soon I will join them. I tell myself I must not, but how can I listen to myself? We lost this battle. Our kingdom will fall now to the tyranny of the Blood Queen. It would be better for me to die here, burned up to a black husk, to become ashes on the wind, flying forever with my Searra. I can not walk any more. I drop to the ground, releasing the burning handle of the mace, and pull myself along the ground. I don’t really want to die, I’m only trying to convince myself that burning here isn’t so bad because that is what is going to happen to me. I’m crawling through bodies, all dead, by weapon or flame. My comrades, all. I wonder if Dan is among them. Good lad... he would’ve wed Julia had she survived. His parents had also died of starvation, just like so many others. My eyes hurt. I can cry no more. I should have stayed by Searra, died by her side. The emerald is still in my hand. What will it be like to die? Besides the pain, I think I’m getting that. I will find out soon. I’m scared of it, but under the fear is a calm acceptance. Everybody died someday. Oh Hades!.. I’m not going to die if I can make it out. I’m crawling, I’m crawling. I’ll not be joining your underworld so soon, Hades. Like everyone else, I will fight to the last to preserve my life. Demeter, I was a good farmer, let me live to see another crop. No... that doesn’t seem right — like Hades I was a good farmer. I failed my children. Athena, I was a good soldier. My warrior goddess, let me live to fight another day. Hot, hot, I’m burning up. My head hurts. They say a man’s life flashes before his eyes before he dies. That would be interesting. I would like to see my life. I can’t remember much of it. Just flames. And Searra. And little Jake, who died soon after birth. I remember holding his little body and wondering why the Fates had decided he must go. Just a baby, a tiny thing, I could hold him with one hand. Melancholy thoughts are mine. I could do more with my life, if more of life was granted to me. Let this pain end soon. May I die swiftly now. Hot, hot, hot! Burning. Like Anne’s first crumpets she tried to make when she was six. Burning. Like Searra’s body. I shall be but a shell, like a tortoise eaten by a hawk. Crispy, like a dead locust. The birds had eaten them, I remember, and we didn’t think of following their example until it was too late. Hot. Burning. Falling, like the rain that never came to feed us. Cold, freezing, like ice. Ice, like the pond that froze up each year. We went sliding on the ice. I am burning. Why do I feel cold? Cold. I can breath no more, my lungs are filled with fire. No. Fire isn’t wet. There are shadows here, but no dancing flames. I’m sinking. Oh! I fight the current, finally breaking surface. Air fills my scorched lungs, air not filled with the taste of ash and blood. I still can’t see clearly, and my senses are still numb, but my brain is awakening. Water! Blessed water! Did I fall into a river? There were no rivers where we fought. Julia, coming home from her schooling. Telling us about underground rivers. Hah! Poseidon, I’ll see your sea soon enough, for the current is too strong, and where would I get out? The rocks are bashing into me, I feel them now. It hurts. And it’s cold. Now I can’t feel anymore, because my sense have been numbed by the cold. What else would I expect from melted snow? That’s where water comes from in the spring. Hah! Death by fire is no longer an option. Death by drowning seems very likely. Now that I’ve experienced both moments, I might have liked burning more. Burning is warm, after all. Hot. No, no burning. Cold. Ah! Cold, cold, cold! How long can this go on? I am too numb. Rushing with the current, I feel like an insect caught in a gale. Swirling, swirling, cold, fast, ah! I can not stand this much longer. How long has it been? Why do I care? It was false dawn when the fire came. I should like to see the sun again. The sun warms, but does not burn. Curse the titan who brought us fire! No, forgive me, Prometheus, without fire I could not have eaten Searra’s food, a joy to me. I can’t remember the taste of food, although I remember the grainy feeling of bread. I am tired, very tired. I sleep now. My dreams are troubled, horror fills them, they smell of ash and are as red as blood.
“I love you, Meagle,” she says to me. I reach my hand to her, but I am falling. Cold! Wind chill? Waterfall. A very, very, big waterfall. I’m falling. If I flap my wings, will I fly? I mean my arms. I don’t have wings. Eagles have wings. Eagles, that which I was named for. “My little eagle,” my mother would call me. “M’ eagle,” she whispered at her death. “Meagle,” my father called me then on. “My Meagle,” Searra called me once we had wed. If I was an eagle I wouldn’t be falling. I would fly, if I flapped my wings. Eagles, for which I was named— I’ve gone over this already. My skin burns. Wind-burn. I never knew wind could burn. I’m falling. Oh gods. That means it will end soon. Ah! I didn’t know cold water could burn, either. Ooah, it hurts. Smack I fell, and I can’t move now. There, my arms can move again, Water again? Oh. The current is slowing. I can’t get to land, though. I’m too tired. Hmm. Blessed unconsciousness. When I’m unconscious, I’m not supposed to be thinking, am I? Oh. Now I’m dreaming. Lovely sight, the gods. They have very peaceful voices. Hmm. Pretty. Ah — blackness at last!
Am I awake now? I must be, for I am thinking. I do not feel like opening my eyes. My eyelids tell me to sleep while they continue to droop. Well, I’m not dead yet, eyelids, come now, open up. Ow. Go away, birdie. Hey, I can move! I can feel! Is that a good thing? Ooh — no. Everything hurts, and far more than is good for me. The sky is such a lovely blue. The sun is warm, and I am still wet. I will attempt to sit up. Ooh — no. Never mind. I shall simply lie here until I die of starvation. I have washed up on the river banks, and the current doesn’t carry me away again because it has wedges me ‘tween two rocks. They hurt. The river bank is right here, I should get to it. To lie on the soft grass — yes, I have to. Oh, but it hurts as I drag myself over the rocks. Everything hurts, and my eyes are blurring. The grass. How soft it is. I will lie down here, and let the sun dry me. It is cold still, but the sun feels nice. I’ll sleep now.
Am I awake again? No, not really. I am moving. Why am I moving? Oh dear. I think I will sleep through whatever this is.
“Ah!” Hit against a rock! The sound that comes from my mouth is no more an ‘ah’ than a ‘sun of life, feed me with thy grace.’ It sounded a horrid gurgle, and the result is that I am dropped.
“It’s alive!” I hear someone cry.
“I had better get Papa,” a different voice said, and I felt the vibration of footsteps. The other one left too. Are they coming back? I don’t know. They know I’m alive now, however, and that’s a step up. I am going to sleep.
I’m awake again. Oh! I keep interrupting my sleep. Right. I shall open my eyes now. Oh. What a pretty little girl.
“Mamma!” she cries, jumping back, “his see-ers are on!”
What an odd way to say my eyes are open.
“Thank Hera,” a woman breathed. “You’ve been in sleeps for half a month,” she told me.
“Oh,” I say, though it comes much clearer than my ‘ah’... two weeks ago. That doesn’t surprise me. The two weeks, I mean. I feel much better. Except the smell of fire. Er. I shiver.
“You are who?” the mother asks me.
“Me?” I babble, “I hurt. I’m hungry. I’m... Meagle. Right. Searra!” I remember now. Oh, the pain. I turn to the wall and cry. It doesn’t hurt so much. It feels good to cry. Searra, oh Searra!
I’m hungry. Whatever it is that tickles my nose, it smells good. The ceiling. I guess I should expect that is what I would see, lying on my back. A rather pretty ceiling. Stone, like my home was. I’ll not cry again for you, Searra, not right now. Later, then I can cry again. Now I had better let my hosts know I’m living.
“Hello?” I croak. My vocal chords are still half-burned, I shouldn’t wonder. Footsteps.
“Ah, hiya to our living ward, Sah Meagle,” the woman welcomes, pleased. “I am Maria.”
“Thank you, Ses Maria,” I say quietly, “it must be a burden for you to have me.”
She was silent for a moment. “We what we could did,” she murmured, “to Hera we give thanks of your life.”
“Hades ate me then spat me out,” I sigh, tears blurring my vision of the gray ceiling. “If it was by Hera’s bidding, then I shall also thank the goddess for my life.”
“Are you better feeling, Sah Meagle?” she asks gently.
Am I? “I think I can walk,” I offer, though my whole body vetoes the idea.
“We are to sup in moments, you will join us?”
“Please,” I say enthusiastically.
She chuckled. I finally turned to face her, and smile wistfully. Ses Maria is lovely as her daughter, and I tell her so. She chuckled again, her blue eyes twinkling.
“That was my Lara, fifth child of mine six.”
I sighed. “Searra wanted six children,” I say rather blandly.
Her humor turned to a soft pity. “You have lost your wife?”
I nod, then change the subject to ask of when we would eat.
She smiled again and pulled some things over. “First, Sah Meagle, your hand.”
I stare blankly.
“Even throughout your weakness, your fist remained clenched, and nah I nay my husband could open it. Bleeding through, and I don’t wand infection on you.”
I lift my right arm to look at the hand. Clenched about the emerald, I remember. It hurts to open, but ah! an ugly sight! The emerald has dug into my hand, the skin healed around it. Ses Maria looked surprised for a moment, but began cleaning the dried blood away.
“Cleanly healed,” she murmured, tracing the scars on my palm with her finger. She gently lay my arm down, then went across the room. She returned with a small man.
“Sah Ivor,” Ses Maria told me, “my husband.”
“Greetings,” I sigh. Together they helped me to the chair I was to sit on. The rest of the family filed in, the eldest holding the baby boy. The eldest two children are the boys who found me, the other three are girls. The children all looked at me uneasily, and I wonder why I unnerve them so. Oh dear. I should see what I look like, perhaps. Being burned and stoned and flown and swept, I do not imagine myself a pretty sigh. And my half-leg probably scares them. Once we all were seated, we gave thanks to the gods, and we ate. The soup tastes good, but I let it cool more. Hot does not bide well for me. And I feel awkward holding the spoon, as it clanks dully against my emerald. I wish I could give the gem to this kind family, but it seems it has rather grown attached to me. To make conversation, I ask the names of the children. Jake and Jack are the boys, then Lisa, Lara, and Betty. The baby is Ben. What a lovely family! I eat now, and feeling is coming to me again. My head hurts.
Finished eating now, the children leave to play. Silence unnerves me.
“Where am I?” I ask rather abruptly.
Sah Ivor sets down his cup to answer me. “This is the Gaetizan province.”
My smile, if it was there, is gone. Gaetizan. My enemy. Bordering Lefizan, my home.
“Oh,” is all I say. Now I am in a province ruled by the conqueror of terror, the Blood Queen.
I admit, it’s rather strange. This family is happy, their house is large, their crops strong, their fields stretch for acres. They are not in chains nor under guard. The Blood Queen and her soldiers must eat, of course, perhaps that’s why the farmers have free reign. I realize my silence is pressing, so I smile. It was rather like a quick grimace, and I put my head in my hands.
“You should get back in bed,” Ses Maria whispers. For my face feels... I know why the children are afraid of me. Ses Maria gave me a mirror and I look into it. I scare myself. My face is scarred beyond repair. My nose, which used to seem so odd, is now my strong feature. My cheeks are jaggedly red and orange and pale and dark... I look like a demon. It set the mirror down and Ses Maria helps me back to bed, and none of us speak a word.
Chapter 2: Rebirth
When I wake the next morning I have a strong incentive not to open my eyes. I should just die, really. I am a walking horror, with nothing left for me. Meagle, get up. I guess I have a rebellious side — oh, but it know that. There is life ahead of me... and revenge. I will not cry for Searra, not for a long time, but I will avenge her. Ow. I will be no use to kill the Blood Queen if I hurt myself after two weeks of healing. No more trying to jump out of bed. I open my eyes, and see Jack watching me, alarm on his face.
“I am all right now,” I said, feeling foolish, “just... a nightmare.”
He calmed immensely. “Oh Sah, yes. I know what you mean.” He looked a moment at my disfigured face, reddened, then hopped up from his seat and left the room. A moment later Ses Maria entered and came to my side.
later part: Fortune Teller
She grasped his hand in her own, looking into his eyes, a solid stare of mystic. She smiled. “Treasure of your ancestors, you search for all. Look to the songs you sing, they give you clues.”
Dale gaped at her. “My nonsense songs?” he asked, flabbergasted.
Her smile grew and her eyes twinkled, then she gave Dale back his hand and looked to me. Her smile slowly dimmed until it was a ghost of its former brilliance.
“You have great fortune coming your way,” she told me, but she sounded less certain that when she spoke to Dale. “You will wed a lady of beauty greater than the sunset, and...” She paused. “Or? And defeat the tyrant and bring us peace.”
I stared at her, my face impassive.
“Was that an ‘and’ or an ‘or’?” Dale asked, as always pinning down the trivial points.
The fortune-teller focused her eyes on him. “That is Meagle’s own decision.” She sounded so decided, so mystic, so sure of herself, that I could not doubt her. But as we ride away from the tent, I remember the expression in her eyes at the last thing she said, and wonder what she was afraid of.