Part of the Static-Lands Saga, the basic worldsetting of which can be found here for anyone new or forgetful: http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/03/static-lands-saga-1-worldsetting.html Keep in mind, however, that this is an ever-evolving canon, not a set in stone complete thing, hence why I blog in hopes of getting feedback.
I'm actually not really "sure" about this story because I plodded along on it, taking a long time in writing it little by little. It's not one of the ones I've written in a white-hot fury of inspiration and I'm always feel unsteady about stories I take too much time on. This was sort of initially inspired by stupid-gaming stuff, too. It's not a fan fiction (I have been writing a lot of those lately, hence distraction from doing originals like this) - but the initial inspiration came from a thought that struck me while playing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In that game, there are a pair of escort-missions in which you need to take the Sages of Earth and Wind through their respective monster-filled temples so they can go to the prayer chamber to pray to put more evil-slaying uber-power into Link's (player character's) sword. I had this thought strike me that I wanted to do something sort-of like that for my world in a MUCH more realistic, adult and philosophical way, with a *realistic* contrast between a gritty soldier-type and a head-in-the-spirit-world holy person - and wound up with a story about people with two different worldviews having an extended philosophy-session on their way up to a shrine.
Here is a tale of two people on a journey and a long conversation.
The Sword and the Sage
Their light is our darkness,
Their freedom, our chains.
Every hero is someone’s villain,
And every dream is someone’s nightmare.
Whatever something is depends upon one’s perspective.
That is why the lands became static.
The night and day in standstill shows us this from one land to another.
The state of the world is now a symbol of our differing perspectives.
Kallin scratched the base of one of his antlers as he read the stone inscribed with the strange message. Sure, he’d been to the
before and had to get used to the sun, but he didn’t see the people there as so bad, for the most part. Many of the hornless-ones were rude and rough to him, but he did not think much of it. Perhaps the “chains” referred to in the inscription were the ties to possessions and status the people of the day-land held dear. Kallin was standing at the entrance to a temple, after all. The people here were spiritual, much unlike the people he’d met in Fortissimo. Land of Always Day
“One’s superstition is another’s reason, I suppose,” he said as he adjusted his sword-belt.
He was supposed to meet someone here today. Kallin had come to the
and the Rainy Valley because he had been hired as a bodyguard. He was to meet a “sage” here – whatever that meant – and he was to escort this person to a shrine on the top of a specific mountain where they were to complete their training or to live alone and pray for the village or something. Temple of Dea
Kallin had a generalized respect for people who believed in stuff, though he wasn’t sure what he believed in. His strength and his sword had been enough to get him through life. In fact, he felt dirty standing at this temple entrance. He’d shed blood before. The priests and nuns here probably didn’t even eat meat.
An old man came out to greet him. His hair was silver, as were his antlers. They shined in the moonlight at the tips. His beard and mustache hung down to his haunches.
“Sir,” Kallin responded, “I am the guard the messenger from your temple hired. I am here to see your sage. Are you him?”
“Oh, no,” the old man laughed. “You seek Trina. That is her over there if my old eyes do not deceive me.”
The man pointed to a figure that was running pell-mell across a muddy field toward a large animal that was struggling in a pit of muck. Villagers called out to her, trying to get her to stop. The young woman jumped into the mud and it quickly began to drag her under. She picked up her feet and pawed in the mire to keep herself afloat as the cow she in the hole with lowed and struggled. The girl slipped a harness she carried over the animal’s head and tugged on it as she backed out of the muck. Her hooves found purchase on more stable ground and soon the cow’s did, as well. A cheer went up as she led the bovine to a waiting man, who took the beast’s harness and examined its mud-coated legs.
Kallin blinked. “She did that like it was nothin’,” he said. “Was she speaking to that cow?”
“Indeed, she was,” the old priest said. “Oh, don’t get excited! There’s nothing magical in it! She doesn’t ‘speak cow’ or anything like that, she just has a persuasive way with animals. That white creature is one of our blind cattle.”
“They’re a specialty around these parts, aren’t they?” Kallin asked, “Creepy, didn’t see any eyes at all on that thing.”
“Oh, yes,” the old man chuckled softly, “It seems to be a side-effect of the state of our world. While we Ilkhan have always had eyes like the deer, which have always loved the evening and have had no problem adjusting to perpetual night over the generations, some animals have adjusted in other ways. The mutation for cattle started here and is the most prevalent in our valley. They get along fine most of the time, but sometimes they stumble into trouble.”
Trina shambled her way over. She was wearing tights over her legs, coated in sheets of mud. “Elder Sy,” she said, “Is this my swordsman?”
The Elder laughed. “Indeed he is. This means your journey starts when the moon is low on the horizon. Get cleaned up and rest.”
“My name is Trina,” Trina said, offering her hand out to Kallin, “I know that I am quite young for the position I am to take. You look quite experienced. What am I to call you by?”
“Kallin,” Kallin said gruffly, “You just risked your life for a cow.”
“Yep!” Trina replied brightly.
“Why?” the swordsman asked. “It was just a cow.”
“Livestock are important to the people of this valley,” Trina answered, “And drowning in mud is a terrible way for an animal to die.”
“Come on,” the Elder said, “You both should clean up and rest in preparation for the journey.”
Kallin was fed and was surprised at what he was being fed.
“You all eat meat?” he asked as he sat down on a mat before a low table.
“Do you?” Trina inquired, “Oh, I hope we did not offend! How thoughtless of us! We did not bother to ask if you were a vegetarian nor had any other restrictions before serving you!”
“It’s alright,” Kallin assured, holding a hand up. “I love meat. I find it strengthening and healthful. I’m just surprised to see priests and holy people eatin’ it. I thought you folks were supposed to hold all life sacred.”
“We do,” Elder Sy answered, “We just handle that belief in a way that allows us to eat animals. As we see this, everything dies. We give our beasts good deaths. One day, our bodies will nourish the earth as well. We see things as a cycle.”
Trina took a little bread and a slice of roasted beef and made herself a little sandwich. “Our cattle have kept our culture alive,” she said between dainty mouthfuls. “Back when the daylighters had won the land, they tried to make the people of the
as they were – focused on material matters. They wanted us to worship their goddess, or at least give up the ways of Dea. The temple was shut down, but they couldn’t stop our beliefs from being in our hearts, nor could they stop brave people from being honest about them. Rainy Valley
“The only thing they could do after closing the temple if they wanted to stop us from being ourselves was to kill us. That’s where the cattle come in. No one gets good beef and good milk from dead ranchers. The day-folk had gained a taste for our land’s produce and fine leather as well. They let us have our temple back and live the way we wish as long as they get their tribute.”
“In short,” Sy explained, “We learned that we could break some rules so long as we made ourselves useful. If you are good enough at what you do, you can be ‘forgiven’ a multitude of crimes.”
Kallin thought to a few politicians he knew about as well as some artists whose names he recalled, and a handful of feared, strong swordsmen. The only people he knew of who could at least seemingly get away with anything were excessively famous individuals. He hadn’t heard of entire peoples weaseling their way under the noses of their overlords before.
Kallin and Trina set out on a road in the hours that passed for “morning” in the Land-of-Always-Night. The trail was easy at first, just a looping forest path, deep-set in the side of a mountain.
“Thieves frequent this place?” Kallin asked, alert and watching the woods.
“Not really,” Trina said, turning to him as they walked roughly side-by-side, “but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. I am permitted the consumption of meat, but I am not permitted to do violence against people, even to save myself. There are also dangerous animals on the mountain.”
“If your folk wanted to protect you from wild animals, they should have hired a hunter. I don’t know what kind of fiction stories you’ve read, plays you’ve seen or games you’ve played, but a sword is not for beasts. It’s a weapon made to strike down men.
Trina was quiet for a while, walking steadily. “I’ll live alone,” she spoke up after that while, “Up at the shrine for a year, maybe two. I’ll have to survive on my own, pick fruit, grow my own garden, fish and snare things, just living and praying.”
“I heard sages are supposed to be wise people,” Kallin said.
“The term differs from place to place, language to language, but yes, in our reckoning, a ‘sage’ is a spiritually-wise person, or, at least ‘attuned,” if they aren’t the same thing.”
“Why ain’t ya a ‘saint,’ then? Isn’t that supposed to be the same?”
“If I were a saint, I’d be dead. ‘Saint’ is the title for an exceptionally revered sage and is only bestowed upon those that have died.”
The companions walked for about an hour in quiet when Kallin made an observation. “You ain’t once preached at me, Miss Sage.”
Trina shifted her travel bag on her shoulder. “Why would I?”
“Iffin’ you’re a holy person, aren’t ya gonna try to save my soul?”
“My temple doesn’t work like that,” Trina answered. “We don’t want to bother those that don’t seek out our way. We trust Dea to judge rightly.”
“I’m disappointed,” Kallin answered.
“How come? I think you’d not like being bothered.”
“I always took people preachin’ at me as kinda neat – it was like they went outta their way ‘cause they thought my soul or my mind or whatever was worth saving.”
“Do you want me to preach to you?”
“Nah, not really. I never liked anyone in my face, either. Seems to me that folks desperate to get me to believe in somethin’ or to stop believin’ in somethin’ weren’t in it for me. They get someone agreeing with their way, it makes ‘em doubt themselves less, ya know? Best way to prove yourself right is to get someone else to think you’re right, even if it means both of you are dead wrong in the end.”
“What do you believe in, Kallin?” Trina said with a twitch of her ears. Kallin couldn’t help but notice the kindness in her big eyes. From what he could tell, it was an honest question, not her seeking an opening for the preaching of gibberish at him, so he answered her with due honesty.
“The way I see it,” Kallin said slowly, still keeping his eyes and his ears attuned to the surroundings, “Everybody’s gotta have faith in something. For some, it’s a god or a gaggle of ‘em. For others, it’s some big idea like ‘Their People’ or ‘The Future.” For some, it’s the idea that they’re just plain better ‘en others – a wolf among sheep or a smart person in a sea of dumb. I feel sorry for the last kind, ‘cause it really seems like it’s all they’ve got – for most of ‘em. Call me a bastard who hates other bastards, maybe.”
Trina scratched an antler and shook some mud from the hooves of her left foot before picking up her pace. “That’s an interesting view of the world, but you didn’t answer my question. I asked you want you believed in.”
“Myself,” the swordsman answered, “Myself and my sword. Not in a stupid way, though. I’ve seen strong men get weak real quick. I know I can fall.”
“That may be something I believe in more than Dea sometimes,” Trina said with a soft smile.
“Huh? What’s that?”
“Falling,” the young woman explained. “That anyone can fall. I believe in the breaking of pride. I think that someday, anyone who is too proud will encounter a moment of weakness that forces them to question themselves.”
“Lots of folks die proud, though.”
“Maybe they are broken at the moment of their deaths. None know but them.”
When the two made camp to rest, Trina watched Kallin train with his sword. He danced past imaginary obstacles and fought imaginary foes. Trina noticed that his performance was very different than the acting by those playing swordsmen in theater productions of myths and legends in the
. The play-acting performances had refined move-sets. His moves also differed from those of the daylighter soldiers that had sometimes come to the Valley to collect taxes and tribute. Those men sometimes showed of their skills to impress the village children. Rainy Valley
Kallin’s style was something they might consider heretical, or perhaps just uncouth.
“You use your antlers,” Trina observed. “You use your hooves and your antlers in the fighting, not just the blade.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” the warrior answered. “I am aware that I don’t fight like the guys from the Land-of-Always-Day. I use an ‘animal’-style they frown on, but, what can I say? It’s gotten me through fights, kept me alive. Fencing’s just a sport. I always fight like it’s a battle for my life – ‘cause when it’s real, it is. I’ll use all that’s been given to me.”
“You’ve killed people?”
“Of course. I don’t think I would have been hired as your guard if I hadn’t had experience in that.”
“Do you think about it a lot?” Trina asked from where she sat by the campfire. “I think I’d think about it a lot if I had to kill anyone.”
“Not really,” Kallin answered, sheathing his sword and sitting down across from her. “Just bandits, folk who were hurtin’ innocent people and woulda killed me if I hadn’t prevailed. World’s better off with blood on my hands. You’ll thank me for my cold heart and cold steel if we run into trouble.”
“I do not doubt that,” Trina replied. “It was something I probably….shouldn’t have even asked about.”
“I sometimes wonder what it would be like to die, though,” Kallin said, looking up at the stars through the boughs of the trees around them. “You should know, right? Miss Sage…”
“I don’t know any more than you do,” Trina confessed. “I have beliefs, but nothing more than that. As I see it, no one living has all the answers, just ideas. The ideas can be enough to get us through.”
“Some say that dyin’s supposed to feel good, you get awash with peace and all that. People like you are supposed to believe that there’s all this stuff afterward. Either way, it’s supposed to be okay. I wonder, sometimes, what if it’s not okay? What if when someone finally sticks a sword in me, I’ll see the darkness comin’, get all engulfed in it but know what it is and it won’t be okay?”
“Have faith that it will be okay when it happens and try your best not to get killed?”
“I suppose so.”
“I don’t see how any of us can stop existing, though,” Trina sighed. “Maybe to others, but not to ourselves. It seems to me that our minds are meant to process existence and cannot process anything else. My temple is big upon pondering perceptions – what it means to perceive. As I see it, if I perceive darkness at my death, that, too, is a kind of existence. So what really happens if I do see the
? Will that mean I arrived there even though it may not be objectively real?” Celestial Forest
Kallin looked up at the trees. “I always found it interestin’ how the people from The-Land-of-Always-Day need special stuff to see the world here the way we see it - things they wear over their eyes and whatnot. I’ve heard them folk say they see everything washed out, in grays and blues and have so much trouble seein’ anything. Meanwhile, we see all kinds of colors – the same kind you can see in their land if you get adjusted – wander through the Gloaming Lands a while before heading into the proper Day. Our eyes are different – we see things differently.”
“I think the world would be boring if we all saw it the same,” Trina answered.
“Maybe we’re all just tryin’ to muddle through, survivin’ as long as we can with only ideas.”
“If it helps, there is a ghost that ‘lives’ in the
temple. I’ve seen him a few times. He’s one of my predecessors, Saint Hilden. He should rightly be in the Rainy Valley but he stayed behind to help us out. He’s rather polite – heavyset with a wispy mustache. I’ve only seen him a few times.” Celestial Forest
“I’m afraid that don’t help at all, darlin’,” Kallin replied. “Just makes you sound a bit goofy in the head.”
“He’s been seen around the halls by others, but I know that’s no proof of anything. It could all just be a trick of the light or mind for all of us, or wishful thinking. Again, it’s a perception thing. One person’s proof of concept is something another will never be convinced of.”
“Yeah, that. Maybe if I got visited by some thief I ran through I wouldn’t think you sound silly, but that ain’t happened yet and I’d probably still think it a dream if it did.”
“How did you wind up with a sword in your hand?” Trina asked. “I was found and chosen by the priests at an early age. My parents live in the village and they are proud of me. Did your father put a sword in your hand?”
“No, I chose it when my country was at war, but I was too young for my elders to allow me to fight. I wanted to help, so I trained. By the time I was old and strong enough to help, we had lost and I watched my family become subjects. It’s amazing that the daylanders allow you to do what you do here.”
“As was said, they like our beef. Also, no one said we tell them everything we do. They certainly wouldn’t like some of the prayers I recite.”
“And what kind are they? For your god to strike them all down?”
“Nope! Just equity, justice – for all. Favors for the people the people in power in the day-land wish would die out, for us to keep on with a measure of our freedom, those kinds of things.”
“The breaking of pride?”
After sleep, Trina and Kallin continued up the winding path. Trina called out when she saw the shrine. It was nestled among overgrowth. She was going to keep her mind and her body occupied for some time clearing the grounds. The interior was small, but cozy and comfortable.
Kallin looked around. Something wasn’t right. There was a smell on the air. He recognized it – a beastly smell like manure and wet fur. He was no hunter, but he was familiar enough with the wilds to know that it wasn’t skunk or fox. Gray-white figures slunk out from between the trees. Kallin unsheathed his blade. He called out to Trina, who looked up form inspecting a small rain-gathering basin.
“Straighthorns,” Trina gasped. There were three of them, a standard pack-size for that breed of creature. They were long and lithe, about the same size as wolves. Their feet had three toes each, capped in hooves. They had long faces, bushy tails, and their heads were capped with long, twin straight horns, hence their common name.
Straighthorns were among the very few wild beasts that actively preyed upon people – human and Ilkhan. While bears and wolves might be frightened away by a healthy person shouting and brandishing a weapon, the pack of straighthorns knew its advantage. Kallin drew their attention to himself. The animals surrounded him, forming a circle. Trina made haste to climb a tree, knowing that straighthorns were unable to scale trees.
She watched from above as the creatures leapt for Kallin. He swung his sword in a wide arc. The blade cleanly decapitated one of the creatures. He made a stab for another one. While the hit was a true killing strike, the tip of the blade caught in the creature’s flesh, stuck between ribs. As he yanked the blade out, the last of the pack speared him with one of its long horns.
“Kallin!” Trina cried out.
The swordsman grabbed the horn in his chest, holding the snarling animal in place long enough to spear its neck on his blade. The straighthorns-stag fell, its horn sliding out if its intended victim. Kallin, to Trina’s astonishment, remained standing. He held his wound and coughed. She leapt out of the tree and ran to him.
“Come on,” she said, helping him to stay up. “We’ll go to the shrine. I… I have a little medical knowledge, but this looks very serious… I don’t know what to do! Maybe you can stay… and I can go back to the village for help and -”
“Just get me inside,” Kallin choked. “Not a heart-wound, I’d be dead by now… not a lung-wound ‘cause I can breathe, but… It’s bad… feel myself dropping...”
He sat down heavily at the entrance to the building. Trina ripped her travel-bag apart until she found a blanket to wrap around him in an attempt to control the bleeding. As she pressed her hands to the wound, she felt him gently wrap his hands over hers.
“Pray for me,” he said.
“What?” Trina cautiously asked. “I wouldn’t… if you don’t want me to. I didn’t think you’d want that, since you aren’t of mine…”
“This isn’t a conversion,” the swordsman answered in a raspy voice. Then he smiled. “I just now that you were gonna pray anyway. I just wanted you to know that it was okay by me.”
“If you pray for me, you are praying for you, not for me. I like you, kiddo, so do what is natural to you.”
“Just try to stay awake. I’ll wrap you up and I’ll head down the mountain. I’ll bring back real help.”
She tried to part from him, but he held her hand. Kallin looked at her with unfocused eyes.
“You know what?” he said.
“It’s okay. It really is.”
He choked out a shuddering breath as his body went limp and his back slid down the wall of the entryway. Tears streamed down Trina’s cheeks as she closed her eyes and silently prayed, even as she outwardly wailed.
Trina spent her days at the shrine as she was instructed. She did not go back down the mountain, but lived in her own quiet world of self-sufficiency, meditation and reflection, and work with nature. A shovel was one of the many tools in the shrine-area’s tool shed. She made a grave for her swordsman at the edge of the forest. She boiled the head of the straighthorn-stag that had killed him in a large pot and set the skull upon a stave to serve as his grave-marker. She’d skinned that same straighthorns to make him a grave-blanket and kept the hides from the other two for herself.
In the inmost room of the shrine, Trina kept Kallin’s sheathed sword. She hung it upon a wall and every day would sit before it, focusing on it as she prayed.