Friday, August 19, 2011

Cut Throat

As always:  - so if you're a new reader, you know why there's a Land-of-Always-Night and why some people have antlers.

A ghost story.  A retired warrior is visited by the spirit of someone he killed who never figured out why petty differences were a cause for dealing death.

The fictional language in this is based upon a language my sister made up when we were kids.  She and her friends used to use it around me to keep things from me.  I was later taught it so I could join in talk about adult matters around her children, whom she wanted to keep things from.  I modified aspects of it for this story, but it remains a pretty easy-to-figure out English cipher.  For those wondering what the first thing the character who uses it said - his first line is "You do not know the faces of your own staff."  The rest of what he says in his native tongue is explained in the story.

The Static-Lands Saga

Cut Throat

Thick oil smell filled Brandt’s nostrils as he snuffed the torches.  Smoke curled in pale gray whispers and tickled the tip of his nose.  Electricity was uncommon in the area he’d chosen as his residence, but he could have afforded lines to be brought in if he desired it enough.  He also could have afforded lighting and heating magic, but he was not inclined to trust such things.

He’d heard a story once of a minor wizard that had been late on a payment to his local major mages.  His magic-flow had been cut off in the middle of a spell, resulting in his being stuck in a transformation.  The man had turned himself into a rabbit and could not become a man again until the bill was paid.  Strangely enough, he’d retained his antlers in rabbit-form, but tragically, he was killed and eaten by his neighbor’s cat all the same.

Brandt did not trust in magic or even, entirely, in science.  He trusted his muscles, his wits and the strong steel of his swords.  The waves crashed outside.  His castle by the Southern Sea was small and lonely, but Brandt was not a man that trusted much in love, either.    

He climbed into his bed, his silken sheets as smooth as water against his skin.  The season was summer.  In the winter, he reclined on blankets made from the pelts of rare beasts.  The light of the perpetual moon shone upon a sword and shield that hung on the wall opposite the bed, edges of white flame on a backdrop of gray.  The moon was full in the Land-of-Always-Night tonight. 

Brandt had not earned this castle by being nice.  This area was the land of his people now.  The remnants of the natives conformed to the ways of Kanika, although the colonial lands were still called Danika.  Brandt thought about the sword that had won him his manor as he drifted off to sleep.

He was awakened rather rudely.  A frigid draft blew over his body. 

“Cold sea breeze,” he muttered as he drew up the sheets around himself, shifting to his side. His Ilkhan antlers, though unusual in that they were flat like those of a moose rather than thin like those of common deer, were situated upon his head in a manner that allowed him to lay upon his side.  Still, he had to be careful with that. He scraped one against the wall uncomfortably and opened his eyes in pain.   

“Wha!” he exclaimed before he could even utter a grunt of irritation.  A man stood before his bed, dressed in blue and white. 

“Need no service now,” Brandt groused.  “Come back when I’m hungry or somethin’.  Back to your quarters.” 

The stranger spoke.  His voice was clear and even.  “Yung-oyo dungoh nungohtung kungnungohwung tunghung-ee fung-ah-kung-ee-sung ohfung  yung-oyurung ohwungnung sungtung-ah-fungfung.” 

“What kind of talk is that?” Brandt grumbled, turning in bed again.  Suddenly, he remembered where he had heard such a language.  It was the native speech of the Danika – the tongue of the people he helped his own to conquer.

Brandt sat up.  There was a Danikan in his bedchamber!  Before he could launch himself up to grab the sword off the wall, his eye caught a disturbing feature on the person of the intruder.  The man was young despite his gray hair.  His antlers were common-brown and unusual.  His right horn was small and branched while the left was long, arched inward and smooth, bearing no offshoot.  It was none of these features that gave Brandt pause.  His gaze fixed upon the long, deep cut across the man’s throat. 

“Is this some kind of trick or twisted joke?” Brandt demanded.  The wound looked real in that way a trained eye could tell and it was a particularly vicious cut.  He could see the rent skin, cleanly-sliced flesh, edges of fat, opened veins and was sure he could even make out the punctured windpipe. The wound looked bled-out, like meat at the butchers’ market or like a wound on a stale corpse.  If the intruder was wearing paint or make-up, it did a convincing job.  In his former life, Brandt had seen many people with their throats cut.  He’d done the job himself on more than a few.   

“A clean and fatal wound by a man well-trained and practiced in the art of killing,” the man said in the language Kanika shared with much of the rest of the world.  “You would know.  A sharp knife drawn through particular veins and arteries leaves a distinctive mark.  It was not an instant death, but it was quicker than many other kinds of death.” 

“Who are you?  Why are you here?  It is not the right time of year for you to be dressed for the Feast of the Dead.”   

“Am I frightening?” The Danikan said sarcastically.  “It is much more frightening to have a wound like this than to see it.” 

“Get out of here! Go back to your seven slut-wives or whatever!  Out before I take the rest of your head off!” 

“I am afraid your sword would be most ineffective on me, old soldier.  I am also afraid that I never had even one wife in my short corporeal existence.  You took away my chance to find one.” 


“You took many things from me.” 

“I’ve never seen you before in my life!”

“Really, now?  Are you so sure?”  The stranger knelt and put his hands behind his back, joining them at the wrists as if they were bound.  “Kung-I-lunlung mungay ifung itung wung-I-lunglung mungaykung-ee yung-oyu hungaypungpungyung.” 

Brandt’s eyes widened as he flew out of bed, tossing his sheets aside.  “You!” he growled.  “That upstart that dared to speak to me in the execution-line!  I’ll cut your throat again!”

“You lack the knife and I lack the body,” the intruder replied.  “Both the cultures of Danika and Kanika have the same beliefs.” 

“Then why aren’t you in the Gray World?” 

“We both also believe in spirits.”

“I’ve never been bothered by ghosts before.  I’ve no doubt made many… so why are you here?  If you’re just a ghost, you cannot hurt me, you can only moan and show me your wounds! You do not frighten me!”

“I doubt that I would frighten you - an old soldier who does not fear living beings capable of wielding muscles and weapons, ” the spirit said, returning to what passed for its feet. “I truly am as nothing… just an afterimage of a life that once was and quite harmless.  I do, however, have a reason for being here.  Don’t you wish to know my name?”

“Excuse me?”

“My name was Songhungay-Dungee.”

“I’m not calling you that.”

“It trips on your tongue.  Call me Shade in your language. The closest approximation is Shade.” 

“Okay – I know your name.  So you’ve finished your business, now go to the Gray World where you belong.” 

“Who is to say that I am not already in the Gray World? I am neither happy nor sad, here nor there.  Our neighbors believe in the Shade-Realm as well as the Barrens and the Celestial Forest.  If I knew I had one of them to go to, perhaps I would go.  As it is, our people only have the Gray World – a destination for all regardless of how a soul lived its life.  As I am now, I am a shade and I feel gray.” 

“So, it’s boring being a ghost.  Gotcha.  Do you expect me to apologize for killing you?  Not gonna happen, Shade.  I was serving my people and bringing enlightenment to yours.” 

Shade floated to the end of Brandt’s bed and sat upon it.  “Enlightenment?” he asked.

“Danika is better off now, under Kanika’s government and culture.  Your people were disgusting.”

“How so?” Shade asked.  “I lived peacefully.  I only fought to defend my village when your unit came marching in.  I didn’t even kill that one guy I attacked – not that I hadn’t tried.  What offended you so much that you wanted to put a knife to the neck of a simple farmer and horribly incompetent warrior?”

“Your people’s fealty to a king, for one thing,” Brandt answered. 

“You are loyal to a president and a governing council.”

“My people vote for them!  And they change every fifth year!  Your king was the king for life and his son after him would take his place, no matter how incompetent and idiotic!  What stupid, cowardly people would subject themselves to that?”

“It made sense to us,” Shade answered.  “Your ‘Great Council’ always squabbles, sometimes over something as trivial as the kind of lighting they wish to be used in their chambers.  Our king got things done.  If we felt oppressed, we would have risen up.  After all, my people have large families.  The many could easily overtake the few – and certainly the one.”

“That’s the other thing,” Brandt grumbled, “your families.  The Kanika way is one of greater trust – a man and the wife.  The Danika way-”

“I had five mothers,” Shade interrupted.  “One of them by birth.  The rest were my father’s other wives.”

“That’s disgusting!”

“It was quite normal.  My mothers all loved me, as well as my many siblings.  I was neither the eldest nor the youngest.  My family was smaller than most.  Most men take seven women by the time they reached the age my father was at upon my birth.”

“And you were to follow.  Danikans cannot keep their lusts in check.” 

“On the contrary,” Shade answered, “This way was necessary for much of our history to produce enough children to keep the population stable.” 

“It became outdated,” Brandt sneered.


“Perhaps?”  Brandt could not believe what he had just heard.  “You’re a Danikan.  Danikan males are supposed to desire a collection of loose women.” 

“I didn’t,” the ghost replied. 

“Did you desire men?”

“In Danikan society that is as rare as monogamy. It happens, just not often because of our culture’s emphasis on producing children.  What I mean is no – I was a strange one.  I fancied the idea of only one wife, as your people take, and a small family.”

“You can’t be serious.” 

“Upon studying it, I also thought that, perhaps, our kingly system was outdated.  I really thought that Kanika had some bright ideas.” 

“You were really going to defect?”

“Never, old soldier,” Shade sighed, “You see, I fought for my village.  I could not defect while I had brothers, sisters, mothers and an elderly father to care for and protect.  In addition, there are many things that are cultural pride to the Danikans – things the war was not about that Kanika crushed, anyway – our music, our art, and your people are trying to exterminate our language.  Are you happy?” 

“I am, actually,” Brandt confessed.  “You are in my manor-castle.”

“I did not ask if you were rich,” Shade said, staring at him with all the intensity his translucent eyes could convey, “I asked you if you were happy.” 

“Same thing!” 

“You wish you could be richer and you wish more agreed with your ways – not just those of your people, but your own personal ideas.  I bet you feel offended that I did not bow to you willingly the day you killed me. I had to be forced to my knees.” 

“It doesn’t matter.  You’re dead and I’m alive.” 

“Do you want to know what I said to you?”

“I already know what you said to me.  You used that tongue-twisting nonsense language of your kind.” 

“I can speak openly with you now.  I said “Kill me if it will make you happy.”

“So, you did go to your death willingly.”

“Not exactly.  I muttered something under my breath before your knife cut it off.”

“I’ll bite, what worthless thing did you mumble?”

“I said: ‘I don’t think it will.’  I stand by it. I don’t think you are content.  Conquerors always seek a new conquest.  That is their nature.” 

“My people have conquered Danika. Those that remain alive are subject to us.  So long as the other nations leave us be, we have no need for further conquest.”

“Really now?” Shade asked, cocking his head. “Maybe that’s only because you do not truly think you have completely conquered this land.” 

Brandt scratched his short, rough beard.  “Your people are such rebellious upstarts.  They do not know what’s good for them.  Some have conformed beautifully, but I am still suspicious of them… they looks they give their betters.  The rest? I wonder if the only solution is to make them like you.” 

“You do know that some of the Kanikans have begun adopting bits of Danikan culture.”

“Too much of it, and they may have to face the same fate.”

“Or perhaps, you’ll have to face my fate when enough people decide that my people’s culture is worth revival.  Personally, however, I do not want anyone to share my fate.”

“Go to the Gray World.” 

“Farewell, old soldier. One day, I hope that you will truly be without a fight.” 

Shade vanished.  Brandt grumbled, drew the bed sheets up over his body and shoulders and drifted back to sleep.  He dreamed a memory – of a day when the moon was shining bright and his unusual, flat-style moose-like antlers, newly polished, and been marred with spats of mud and blood from fighting.  The men under his command had subdued the native villagers.  Many corpses lay upon the mud, in the fields, and in the doorways of the squat little whitewashed, thatch-roofed houses.  A few of his men lay in the mud, as well.  They had been good soldiers, though a bit green. 

One of his experienced fighters, however, was lost as well and Brandt couldn’t believe the method – one of the fools in this village had gotten in a lucky stab to his chest with a sharpened pitchfork, a thrust that had wedged between the soldier’s armor.  Whether he’d been speared through the heart or through a lung had not been ascertained by the medic yet. The only sure thing was that one of Brandt’s best warriors was dead by the hand of a farmer. Another of the better soldiers had been wounded in the shoulder by a young gray-haired man wielding a common cooking-knife.  The man who’d wielded the pitchfork had been beheaded by another of Kanika’s finest while the young upstart was among the prisoners.  

Brandt barked orders to his troops to round up the children and to subdue and disarm the remaining village women.  His superiors would deal with them.  He walked to a place outside the Village Elder’s house where several wounded and contained young men and women were being bound and forced to their knees.  He was asked by one of his fighters what was to be done with them. 

Brandt pulled a large knife from his belt, the one he kept beside his sword.  He walked down the line, looking into the eyes of the captured villagers.  He walked to the end of the line where a young man with gray hair and unusual antlers looked up at him and dared to speak. 

“Kill me if it will make you happy. I don’t think it will.” 

Brandt awoke with a start, throwing the sheets off himself in the process.  The moon shone through his window.  The sea breeze was unusually cold.

“Strange dreams I’m having tonight,” he muttered.  He shuddered in the chilly air and did not go back to sleep. He felt strange, rather gray.   


1 comment:

  1. Hi! This is Allie, I found your blog from your sig in the John Shore blog. I promise to come back and read this properly, but I wanted to leave a quick note because we have a lot in common. My parents raise horses, and I grew up riding. I work as a video game artist and writer - probably the biggest thing my husband and I have worked on recently was (a tiny bit of) Mass Effect 2. Love anime. And I love fiction that addresses moral questions, including the Narnia books. Nice to meet ya!