The Days Were Few and Happy

The struggle to breathe

grows harder and laborious,

and soon, not worth the effort.

 

The heartbeat softens to a

padded thudding

of arrhythmic improvisation

 

The light, both sun and lamp alike,

grows dim

 

And the features

of your faces

so familiar

are now only

sketches in sepia

drawn by rheum,

inked in cataract,

and blindness creeps with

a serpent’s crafty slowness

to seize small sight

in its unrelenting

coils of darkness

 

But the memories

of grand carnivals,

of dire hurricanes,

laughter, tears

prizes, penalties

trials, victories

unity, dysfunction

safety , strife

 

holiday dinners

and birthday songs

 

pride and humility

for good or ill

all said and done

except the last

goodbye

and  giving the last remnants

of my love

 

The days were few and happy,

and the honor of growing

beside you

made it all

worthwhile.

 

 

In the Black

And these, my hopes,

now come to stillness,

spent in small and looping

hopeless, frothing eddies,

broken on stones

upon this lifeless shore.

 

The angels weep on me.

Their sobs are thunder.

They snap their saddened sodden wings

to the rhythm of

my racing, raging heart

and sear the sky

with lightning.

 

And out there, my dreams…

There! Floating on the rising tide,

are sailing far and fast,

eluding me forever

with full-wind sails,

but a

cracking mast….

They do not know.

Let them drown adrift,

as my sorrow

in my cups.

 

For now, though despairing in black,

beneath black clouds,

by black water, in black mood,

I yet await

the shining sun,

and

the turning tide.

 

 

 

As I Sat Looking at the Sea

As I sat looking at the sea,

The sea was looking back at me.

“Tell me, O man,” it seemed to say,

“Where would you like to go today?”

 

“I’d like to be inside a shell,

a full sail rising in a swell,

a shark fin slicing through a wave,

a sea-snake lurking in a cave!”

 

The sea then laughed

“That’s quite a list!”

and clothed me

with a kissing mist,

 

And plucked me from

the sitting rock,

and took me

from the safety dock,

 

And gave me

all I did desire

of fish, and fowl

and ocean fire

 

And showed me wonders

floating by

not seen before with

Human eye.

 

“Reach out,” it said,

“and touch and feel

the shimmering coral,

the shocking eel,

 

the slick grey dolphin

playing there,

the breaching whale

that tastes the air,

 

“And in the darkness

of my floor

are creatures

best not counted for…”

And as the sun set,

then the sea

released its hold,

and set me free.

 

And sprayed my cheek,

and went its way.

So I remember

to this day

 

When I sat looking

at the Sea,

and in its depths,

discovered

Me.

 

 

 

Anchors Away

See the sun set on our longing

to invade a distant shore.

See the dimming of desire

to go sailing off to war.

 

Harbored safely and securely,

anchors lowered close to town,

we will speak no more of killing,

and with families settle down.

 

Though the noble masts jut proudly

in the darkened twilight sky,

Hear the cannon’s silence softly

Sing a sailor’s lullaby

 

See the sails tied to the rigging?

They’ll no longer catch the breeze.

And there’s no more pipe and jigging

On the rolling, dancing seas

 

And the whales will give birth again

to calves beneath the moon,

fearing nothing from the surface

be it net or sharp harpoon.

 

And the lighthouse keepers

get to leave their cold and noisy

towers,

for there’ll be no more ships coming

in the darkest morning hours.

 

And violent storms that claimed

the lives of those who’ve gone before

will have no plunder for their crimes

that leave this happy shore.

 

So weep no more, my lovely bride

The tide is standing still.

And I’ll face the sunset with you

Til it sinks beneath the hill.

 

 

The Orb of Life

Look! my friend.

See! and weep no more

I have them here,

preserved by

your perserverance

 

Inside, they mill in

tranquil expectation that

you will see them all,

and claim them for your own.

 

Behold!

 

Your dreams

Your longings

Your desires

Your loves

 

They are here within

The orb of your life

 

But you must reach in

through

 

Your doubts

Your fears

Your rejections

Your hatreds

 

And be able to tell

the difference

for they are double-sided

but they are

 

all yours.

 

The Eyes of My Elders

The eyes of my elders

Defiant and Bold

 

The eyes of my elders

hold secrets untold

 

The eyes of my elders

saw wonders and pain

 

The eyes of my elders

see spring in the rain

 

The eyes of my elders

have knowledge of stars

 

The eyes of my elders

are healing my scars

 

The eyes of my elders

saw friends to their graves

 

The eyes of my elders

sailed harrowing waves

 

The eyes of my elders

know babies by heart

 

The eyes of my elders

keep music and art

 

The eyes of my elders

the stories they tell

 

The eyes of my elders

are tolling the knell

 

The eyes of my elders

spread love all around

 

The eyes of my elders

now look at the ground

 

The eyes of my elders

are closing to sleep

 

The eyes of my elders

are now mine to keep

 

 

 

Leiko and the White Wolf (5)

5)

 

As it often happens when in a strange place for the first time, Leiko couldn’t sleep, and got up to skulk about the monastery to explore whatever piqued her curiosity, which was just about everything.

The dark halls with single torches intrigued her most, but she knew the monastery was likely labyrinthine, and didn’t want to risk getting lost.

She decided to see if Akira was up; perhaps he could make some sort of sleeping tea for her, if he wasn’t too angry at her behavior during dinner.

A bit peeved to find that she cared what he thought of her, she figured it was best to go apologize; he’d been kind to her, all things considered, and she hadn’t, as he’d promised, come to harm.

There was no threat here, at least not from the Brothers, but she could also sense an undercurrent of contained power, controlled, but almost throbbing like a heart, inside the walls, under the ground, a vibrancy running like a warm current tickling the fine hairs on her arms.

It was a sense of gathering power, and it gave her an excited, anticipatory fright.

If that was what they were going to teach her to harness and wield, she dreaded the learning of it, and never desired anything more.

Some of the doors were open, and she looked in to see the men packing large satchels. When they saw her, they hurriedly looked away, almost shamefaced.

She stood in the doorway of one, and the monk came over to close the door, but she wouldn’t leave.

“Leiko, I need privacy.”

“Are you leaving? Did Hakurou send you all on a journey? A mission?”

She saw his face change at the words ‘journey’ and ‘mission,’ and something clicked into place.

“You’re leaving.”

“Please…” he pushed the door at her again, not hard, but firmly, and she had no choice but to back away or let it hit her bare toes.

The lock clicked, and she heard him shuffle away.

They’re leaving because of me.

Disturbed, she went in earnest to find Akira, and ask what problems she’d be facing with them now that she was living here.

 

****************

“Come in, Ko.”

She went in, saw Akira standing by the small window, looking out at the yellow moonlight on the green grass, giving it a bluish cast.

“You knew it was me?”

He chuckled, but didn’t turn to her.

“No powers needed there; the brothers aren’t prone to knocking, and they’re a ham fisted lot if they do.”

“You called me ‘Ko.’ Hakurou changed my name. You call him master, but you defy him by using my old name.”

He turned to her then, looking at her intently; her observations were keen for one so young. Tigress by the tail…

“Between you and me, you will always be ‘Ko.’ That is the name I found you under, and the name in which you branded your father’s cheek with your spittle.”

She reddened at the memory, and looked away.

Good.

“It is also the first cord of our bonding, and I will only call you ‘Leiko’ when Hakurou is around.

“Are we agreed?”

She nodded, not wanting to speak yet, fearing her voice would squeak.

“You are not asleep; tomorrow, Hakurou’s going to start your training in the path of the Rei.”

She sat on the edge of his bed. “Some of the men are leaving because of me. I saw them.”

Akira inwardly cursed them for cowards.

“There is nothing to be done for it, Ko. Those that remain…”

“Those that remain…?”

He shook his head. “What is it you want?”

“Besides returning to Iwai? I’d like a sleeping tea, if you have any.”

“I do. I will even join you. Any later, and we will both see the sun before we topple.”

 

*****************

 

Hakurou’s voice was low thunder.

“I am grieved…so grieved I can no longer call you Brothers.

“You are craven, useless dogs.”

“You said to consider carefully, Hakurou. We all have—“
“No spines!” Hakurou’s fist slammed the large table they were sitting around, and they all jumped, blinking at the sudden fury of the motion and his expression.

Another monk spoke. “Maybe you shouldn’t issue edicts you don’t mean then, Hakurou.”

Hakurou sat down, the blood slowly leaving his face as his hand worried at his beard.

“You’re right. If you didn’t leave now, you’d prove a weakness in the fighting, and run, or die. Either way, you’d have the witches victorious, and this is not the time for people like you. I would say ‘men’, but that doesn’t fit you.”

The monk who first spoke stood. “I’ve had enough. You said we could leave. We’ve done our part, and served our gods; we want to go on serving them. We don’t want to die.”

Hakurou gave a bitter laugh.

“And if the witches win, pup, do you think they’ll leave you be?”

That gave them pause, and some of them remained sitting.

“He’s turned you? With that simplistic question, he changed your mind?”

One of sitting monks sighed. “He’s right, Brother Milal, there is no place to run they won’t find us.”

“But there’s a chance they won’t; there’s a chance we’ll survive, and as long as it’s there, I have to try. I have to take that chance.”

“Best be leaving then,” Hakurou said. “The sun is up soon, and Leiko’s first session will start at first light.”

They stood, and filed out in silence, giving the old wolf at least that much respect, dropping their pendants and rings in a reliquary beside the main doors.

 

***************

Leiko and Akira saw them leaving, and before Akira could react, she was off, running toward them.

“Wait! Please! Please wait!

The monk who spoke to Hakurou first stopped the rest of them, watching her wild eyed approach.

Seeing he was the leader, she went up to him.

“If you leave, sir, you weaken the monastery. You weaken us all.”

“I have no part in this war. It will be a bloodbath, and none of it theirs. You seem like an intelligent child, for a peasant’s daughter. Demand Akira return you to your homeland.

“Dosojin Monastery will be destroyed in the battle to come.”

“Are you a seer, now?” Akira interjected.

Milal looked at him as if he’d just bled on a hymnal.

“No, I’m a realist.”

“If you believe your god is real, ‘realist,’ then why don’t you stay and ask for victory? Your brothers need you.” Leiko said. “And I need you.”

He looked at her, incredulous: her rudeness knew no boundaries.

“He is not a god of warriors, you fool girl, he is a god of the temple. He watches over us in peace and in life, if we should so pray.”

She looked at him a long moment. He was bristling, but dared say nothing in front of Akira. He was shifting his feet under her gaze, and not making eye contact, but summoning backbone to stand straight and say:

“If there’s nothing else, child, we must go.”

She stepped aside, and as they filed past, the leader stood glaring at her, and she calmly bore it until it was his time to step forward on the path of stones.

As he passed her, she murmured so only the three of them heard her:

“Pray hard then, Milal.

As Akira began to close the door, she the fear in Milal’s eyes, but his pride wouldn’t let him capitulate.

He swallowed, and turned away from them, and walked out.

As the lock clicked, a roll of thunder resounded in the far distance.

 

 

 

Overmorrow (2)

2:

On my walk around the grounds, I met the sexton, who only nodded in that grim way he always had, as if a perpetual crown of thorns in a black cloud burdened his brow.
I smiled, for all the good it did, and continued on.
Satisfied that no one else remained, I retired for the night, and drifting off to sleep by the light of a single candle, I dreamed I saw Xantara’s head taken, not by a demon, but by another Protector, unknown to me, a lad of strength and beauty, who’d captured her heart, only to murder her.
I felt myself tossing, but was unable to wake, when a vision from my youth emerged, as if from underwater, as if I was scrying, as an unclean oracle, or a foaming, raving prophet…

It was late, but the old librarian, the one with the tortoise-shaped head, who seemed as if, also like a tortoise, he would live forever, had taken a liking to me, confessing that I looked like the son he’d fathered on a young girl shortly before coming to the temple.
Given his age, on which I could only speculate, I had no idea how he’d know what an infant would look like in his young adulthood, but I didn’t press, and he didn’t elaborate, and it was of no great matter to me.
I had to study, and he made a pot of his special coffee, which was now thrumming in my veins, and sleep would not be forthcoming tonight.
Finding the compendium I needed, I opened it, perusing casually before I got to my subject; it seemed to contain the history of everything, written twice.
I was about to locate my subject, and turned the page, when an illuminated illustration caught my attention.
It was a picture of a young dark-haired girl, praying at night as she stood in her novice whites, in the middle of a stream, the moonlight bathing her from above, and the water from below.
Above her, in the star-strewn sky, she was circled by fierce, hideous demons, with gore filled grins, and straining jaws filled with rows of teeth made for rending flesh and snapping bone.
Their weapons were as sharp and gruesome as their assorted teeth and claws, dulled with ages of reaping hapless souls.
Grim as their visages and weaponry was, they seemed unable to break the barrier of prayer she’d erected about herself, and as I peered closer, admiring the depth of the detail and time the illustrator had taken, I saw that in their expressions there was something of a hallowed fear, and a dread anticipation…They were ensnared, about to die, and they knew it.
Fascinated, I proceeded to read the text:

These are the Protectors, weaponless watchmen standing guard between the realms of flesh and spirit, the divine and unclean, and the living and the dead.
The origins of their power are lost to time, but in their orisons, they are as lethal as any demon, the latter of which, oddly, gather to hear the prayers that ultimately destroy them.
No one has ever recorded the prayers for posterity, but the language is said to have a sibilant quality that renders it almost as whispered, and therefore as indecipherable as it is incomprehensible.
This compendium has no records of their gods or demons, their names, or when they became Protectors. Once our mutual fates were intertwined, as we relied on their protection, and they relied on us for sustenance; as such we were gradually beginning to understand each other.
They are seemingly by nature reclusive, shy, furtive to the point of sneakiness if their motives were evil.
In what few encounters we’ve engaged, they are affable, but loathe to get close. 

There is an unseen barrier, brilliant in its concealment, that we may not cross despite our best efforts, either by strength of sinew, or power of arrow.
In time, as men do when they are unable to solve mysteries, we decided the difficulty of pursuing any kind of relationship with them any further, possibly decimating the storehouses of our youth in future generations, was not worth the risk.
With the passing of years, since we could not get close, we became suspicious, and such allies as they had among us began to dwindle, and in the winter of their fiftieth year among us, we used our trade with them to gain access behind the shield, driving them out to seek and make their way some other place.
Our clerics, who’d witnessed their powers first hand in matters ceremonial, and it is rumored, in cases of demon attack and possession, advocated that we needed them, and would find ourselves at a disadvantage in their absence.
We did not listen, and when the demons tried again, they found our collective belly exposed.
If you are reading this, know that even now they are here, and my hand grows erratic as I hear the sound of their laughter mingling with the screams of the slaughtered.

And so I end, imploring that if it is at all possible, find them.
Find them soon.

Amid the din of screams and weapons smacking flesh, grunts of effort and groans of misery, pleas for mercy and cruel laughter denying it, my eyes flew open and I screamed.
My scream reverberated in my bedchamber, and something ripped my covers from me, and I scrambled backward to sit up.
At the foot of my bed, a deathly pale hand with short, sharp nails, pulled the covers to the floor, and low laughter, wrought through with ill intent, ascended through the floor.

 

Overmorrow

Kneeling by the light that beamed in a soft corona about her, not quite an aura, setting her prayer shawl and priestess gown alight, hair coiled about her head like an ebon halo, I came through the door and held my breath at the vision.

Above her was a monster, weeping in rage, his muscles bunched, his thick and heavy neck holding up his massive head and horns.

Her whispered fervent prayer was binding him, and the axe just shuddered in his trembling hands.

“Xantara, is this one yours?”

She didn’t turn, or give answer, or acknowledge I was there.

The monster turned its head, regarded me with pleading in his soulless eyes.

“You were going to kill her; I can’t allow that, and you deserve your punishment.”

At my refusal of intercession, it redoubled its effort, but Xantara never wavered; I could hear the reverberating sibilance of her foreign, arcane tongue, long vanished from these walls, long banished from these shores.

No one else knew she was here, for no one else could see her.

The colors in the stained glass windows deepened with the dying light, and the candles flared a little brighter as the power of her prayer began to manifest, and the muscled monstrosity that would have taken her head, and probably mine, seemed surprised to find its neck cleaved clean through, almost as if with the very axe it carried, and the knobbed head tumbled in ponderous slowness, to crack on the black marble floor.

Its body listed like a great old dying tree, and shattered the great oak table where the ceremonial cups and candles were, cracking and splintering it like a ruined spine.

The dust cloud was massive, and dark, acrid, smoking blood seethed across the marble, hissing and pitting it as it puddle and pooled.

She stood up and looked at me, as if the creature she’d just slain was nothing more than a reed blown over in the wind.

“Good evening, Mitre Harkin. I’m…sorry…about the mess. I’ll clean it.”

“It’s alright, Xantara. There’s no one here but the two of us, anyway. It’s no great matter.”

She smoothed her gown as she approached.

“They keep coming after me.”

“I’m afraid they won’t stop; your powers have grown.”

“I’ve thought to renounce them.”

“Your powers? You mustn’t.”

“Why not?”

“We’ve been over this, my child. You are the protector.”

“It’s the job of the gods to protect us.”

I laughed.

“Don’t laugh at me, Mitre.”

“I’m not, my dear. I’m laughing at the innocence of your youth as it concerns the gods; they choose their servants, not always willingly. Truth be told, not even always wisely.”

“Are you now saying—?“

“I’m saying, Xantara, that your role in the events to unfold is irreplaceable, and unfortunately for you, irrevocable.”

She sighed, and even in her forlorn state, was rife with divine sweetness.

“You will help guide me though, won’t you Mitre?”

“I will ever be here for you, Xantara; you have my word.”

She nodded, a tear running from her eye.

I took the corner of my prayer shawl, and dabbed it away.

“I must be going,” she said.

“I understand.” The demons didn’t regard the time of day, and she was tired. Rest replenished her powers, and exhaustion weakened them.

But she hesitated.
“Mitre?”

I inclined my head, inviting her to continue.

“Can you make it so I don’t have to kneel and pray so long?”

I thought it over; that would mean facing the Council, making them aware of her existence, or believing me insane, for which the consequences would be immediate, and final.

“You know I can’t appeal to them without revealing your presence.”

“I know, but I’m tired of hiding. Perhaps I will reveal it to them myself.”

I shook my head.

“Xantara, they will pull you from both sides like quartering horses.”

I put my hand on her cheek, and she leaned into it.

“If rest comes so uneasy to you now, child, imagine it never coming at all. They will use you until your very essence is a husk, and they will toss it in the fire, and forget you, taking the credit for your victory.”

She placed her hand over mine, removed it, but held it.

“My dear Mitre, always so wise.”

I chuckled, and she smiled. It was beatific.

“My innocence again?”

“Yes. Go, my child. The hour grows late.”

She nodded.

“Overmorrow, I will return.”

“I await the welcome vision. Farewell, Xantara.”

She gave a small, endearing curtsy. “Farewell, Mitre Harkin.”

Truth be told, I should have been afraid of such burgeoning power in the hands, heart, and mind of one so untried (for there was no fear in her at all), but I was not, and would have cause to regret it later.

Looking back to where the monster had fallen, there was no trace of severed flesh or steaming blood, and no thick hafted weapon to leave behind the threat of death.

It was as if she’d merely stopped praying, and was now leaving.

I turned back toward the doors.

She seemed to glide down the black marble path, the temple doors parted of themselves, and in the last rays of the sun, she faded like an unfulfilled wish that never came true.