The Abbot, greybearded and softeyed. He told of the dangers in the wildewood and wideworld. Beyond the walls of the city and out of the shielding reach of the lord dwell the spirits that serve the red goat. Dancing wickedsinful faeries and rending fleshungry trolls. Temptations of wealth and the flesh, forbidden fruit dangling from every branch. Leaves whisper blistering sins that can drag the hearer to hells worse than even those he’s preached of on Sunsday.
The Abbot, raspvoiced and hunchbacked. He anointed us the sacrificial slaughterlambs to venture outward into the threatening leagues. Full was the city and with tearstained pity he sent us on our way. Seek another clearing in the darkwood to found a fresh Cathedral to shield you, he told us. Blessings intoned and our banners bold with the golden threads of the Church’s work, we alone could face the dangers in the wildewood and wideworld.
Threescore, soulsick and fearfed. We marched into the darkness and soon were lost. Our steel glinted dimly in the little light that filtered through the twisted trees. Our nightfires burned slowly and scarcely kept the gloom at bay. Five died firstnight, drawn into the wildewood by weeping tears and entrancing breathless entreaties from women unseen. At firstlight we found their bones picked clean just beyond the edge of our nightfires’ light.
Twoscore and fifteen, terrorblind and horrorshaken. We marched on into the darkness and knew we were beyond the lord’s reach forevermore. Our feet leaden, burdened as they were with the weight of the wildewood’s watersoaked floor. Seven died secondnight, torn from our circle by redfleshed hands as big as horses. At firstlight we beheld the trees felled by the giants’ footsteps, but naught of our number sought to follow that dire path.
Twoscore and eight, brokenwilled and heartshattered. We marched ever on into the darkness and understood our doom too well. Our backs bowed beneath the weight of own ghosts. Thirteen died thirdnight, dragged down into damp earth by talons and teeth that dwelt beneath our feet. Only their twisted faces remained in view when firstlight arrived. Blessed snow soon covered their grizzly graves.
Onescore and fifteen, hollowsoulled and graveshocked. We marched on and on into the darkness and were consumed by dreadgrief. Our limbs near frozen, we stumbled through brambles and barrows and blight. Fourteen died fourthnight, shrieking in agony as our own nightfires turned against us. Firstlight revealed blasphemous ashen symbols where once our companions stood.
Onescore and one, heartnumbed and soulweary. We marched yet on into the darkness and were deaf to our surroundings. At highsun we found ourselves in a clearing and resolved to travel no more. We built stonewalls low and archways high. None died fifthnight, though the holwingwind and screamingbeasts drove us nighmad. At firstlight we continued to build. And building we have continued. In building we survive.
These words are carved into the walls of the Cathedral that stands at the heart of Onescore-And-One, the city where you were raised. The elders say the city has stood for longer than any living can remember. They also say that the city has grown too crowded and that one day soon three score souls must needs be sent into the wildewood never to return.
Great stuff, V.P. I loved the form–reminded me of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Especially liked the line “Our backs bowed beneath the weight of own ghosts.” This really knocks against the current trend of third-rate,”purple” prose in fantasy fiction.
Thanks, G-Man! I really appreciate it, amigo. I was definitely going for that Heaney Beowulf feel, so I’m glad to know it came through.
Also, thanks for the nod on that particular phrase. As I was writing it I though to myself, “Golly, this sounds downright literary.” I reckon that fancy degree in English is worth something after all!