The Song of Lambert

The day was grey and too soon gone. The hidden sun seemed tempered. Yea the same I carried on, As I had for weeks unending, across the moorlands. Long before I first set step Upon this journey's threshold, I ne'er foresaw a time of breath Without the ocean's windsong in mine ears. I should now be quite accustomed to the change; Yet fear, mine ever-present companion, Has led me closer to the edge of my destiny. And still I long for the comfort of my childhood waves My father was a shepherd king, Though settled by the sea. My brothers grew up fishermen; Yea, to a one were they but me For I, the youngest, heard the call Of piping from the East, And like unto my father, I went forth upon the land so too a shepherd. Such it was until a plague Cast shadows on the beasts, And every ewe and lamb succumbed To that silent mystery; quick, sure, and deadly So too my father, a broken heart, From all his sweat and toil, Reduced to nothing with his flock, As upon that fateful morning came his reckoning Woe it was, that wretched sight; A swift invisible slaughter. His years of joy transformed to tears, And sorrow was his daughter borne that day... Knowing soon he too the cold Must reconcile his longings, He called to us, his living sons, To gather up our courage and go onwards "Make haste to leave... There is nothing left..." In shortened breath he laboured, "Yea, this blessed place now bears a curse... And I have nothing left to leave thee... Except thy mother for eyes.... And me in thy blood... On thine own... thou hast to keep living... Go forth with thy lives... Thou shalt see better days... to remember...". Then slowly as his features fell, He issued forth his final moan. Softly did this blush our cheeks, And chilled us all Unto our every shaking bone; unto our marrows. II It was late September, early fall, when last my father's shepherd call dissolved into the westward wind. And as we placed his cold remains to rest beneath beloved ground, I noticed in the distance several sea gulls, gliding slowly ever 'round and 'round; as if in tribute to a fallen hero. Perhaps the tale had long been told to baby sea gulls in the fold, about a man as brave as bold, who by the ocean long ago was shipwrecked with his clan upon the coastline. Never could a man survive those raging stormswept waters; but this one kept his hold on life by clinging to the timbers of his vessel. Cruel the tempest churned the seas. Yea, valiantly he struggled, when through the squall another's pleas were answered by his hand which never faltered. All the others of his tribe were swallowed by the ocean; save was she called Catylied. Together did they drift into the harbor. There Simon stood, his head erect; naked, proud, his intellect casting down the waves. Looking towards a barren life with Catylied he mated, and though she had not many years she bore him childred nine without one daughter. One at birth refused the light and never once beheld the sight of sunrise Still another counted ten before the ocean claimed him, but growing up to seven men my father raised us all with strength and kindness; the sheer resolve to live, not die, was bred into us all by the loving shepherd man My mother, though an invalid, was gentle, so they said. I never knew her. She passed on the very day I came into this world. My father had to wean me on the breasts of wild sheep, who years before he captured and intended them to keep for food and clothing. This he told me on his knee as I was healthy growing, about the bleating of the ewes when first he placed me hopefully in their manger; a tiny fleeceless stranger. Unaware of danger's yawn, I suckled on these nursemaids long before I ever heard the song of the shepherd. And so he called me Lambert For nineteen years I roamed afield the flock my father tended, and as I grew so too the fold was fruitful, and extended many leagues. Far unto the distant hills good Simon staked his claim, assisted by the wild dogs he somehow caught and tamed to do his bidding. They all so loved him dearly, clearly awed, so great a man who sang a song so sweetly he could charm an eagle's nestling. Perhaps this silenced brought the seagulls' blessing, as seven brothers laid their father resting beneath beloved ground. The chore was done; his wish complete. Nothing else remained. Even what was once our home was now engulfed in flaming reclamation. There with burning torches we set fire free to roam; to cleanse the baneful forces that consumed our fair abode too much misfortune. The plague which came upon this house must surely be appeased, to see such havoc wrought with waste; asundered from disease in every feature. Thunder culled the distant sky. The smoking earth was belching. Something far beyond the wild called to me; an omen --- perhaps of doom.... III Too the moment soon arrived When each we had to choose Our paths of fortune. And so we sat, A silent brood, Listing in a common mood, Watching every timber fall to ashes. "The sea for me", one voice declared. Then "Aye, I'll go along there". "Make that three" another spoke, And soon the others shared the same resolve. "I'll not with thee", I last confessed, "I must away to yonder..." And pointed with an arm outstretched To where my vision wandered, o'er the highlands... "So mote it be" the eldest spoke, "We take our leaves uneven. Yet such is like we have always known, 'Ere since the sheepfold greeted thee anon. Dear Lambert, yea, we love thee still, So know thee now this day; Our father often told us Thou wouldst go a separate way unto the wilderness... So thus spake these words rang true And thundered in mine ears; An echo --- further living proof. Then everything was clear. The skies had emptied. Clouds dispersed. Bright the sun was pleasing. Solemnly the seven sons of Simon Took their leavings by the water. Still the gulls in circles held the auger. Stronger was my will confirmed By such auspicious sightings; The gulls, the sun, The thunder's call. All the herald mightily declared. Gone was all foreboding from our sorrow. "Fare thee well!" I wished them all. "I trust fair winds to guide thee!". "And so to thee, brave Lambert! Ho!", And with that did they heave unto the tide. A strong and salient breeze Brought yet another sign of favor across the waters. Then turning back unto the sands I walked above the harbor, And standing there upon the strand, I watched their sail unfold upon the ocean. Ever did they fade Unto the blueish-green horizon, 'Til like the dust when blown away, they vanished. All was tranquil. IV Turning then away from shore I crossed the lands of Simon. Past the charred and smoking doorway, through my childhood domain, out unto the furthest pastures; linger did I not amongst these places, lest a shadow lead me on astray and vex my will of purpose. Onward toward the unknown wild I walked the lea alone. Forever did I turn my back on all I'd ever known the world to be, except for stories told to me by Simon. Tales of foreign lands and rings, of cities ruled by godlike kings who tore my father's people from their freedom. On the breeze these came to me in echoes of my youth, filling up mine ears with ancient chanting, verses; melodies of bondage. Softly did I sing along the rhythms in my heart, as the presence of the shepherd seemed to be a part of all that was around me. Still the quiet of the heath was hauntingly serene, as though my steps were planted long before I ever came into this lifetime. Soon the noon day sun surrendered. Crimson tinged the western skies. Far unto the frontier fringes, I ventured towards the shadows of the forest. Stopping there to pass the night I searched the ground for kindling, and striking forth a single spark I watched the light of darkness wend its magic. Yellow, orange, reddish-blue; in the eventide these hues were blended in the blaze I set before me. Gazing in the glowing gloom, my back upon a boulder, I watched the rising of the waxing moon, over my shoulder, to the east. Clear the night unfolded gently. Silence ruled the stars. Flickering the fire rendered forth a warmth that closed my weary tired eyes unto the dreaming... Down into the ground, descending, drifting into slumber's lair I feathered. Winged then upon the deep In ritual I circled, Enjoined by fleeting figures Flying vaguely Through the whispers of the mists. Dancing in reflections dim our shadows came withall, 'Til like the rain upon the Valley We were falling... falling... falling... Swiftly through the air I melded down like rushing water. Over, under, all around I tumbled with abandon unto the swirling. And with my head unto my feet, I landed on the shore from whence I came... Startled did I wake unto the darkness of the night. Low the burning embers reddened barely in the breeze, as somewhere in the distance came the howling of the beasts within the wild. Piercing were their cries, and every answer. Swiftly swelled my firm arousal. Pounding was my heart. Rustled not the wind the bushes nearby to the hearth so faintly glowing. Something else was there, closeby, watching through the thicket, as meeting mine two golden-eyed reflections glimmered cruely from the shadows. Faith enclutched my stone-edged blade as there I stood my ground, revealing then in full my heighth, while ever staring back unto the creature. Timeless was the moment gone when sudden came the beast, Yet as I raised mine arm to strike the fire flared increasingly with brilliance. Thereupon the clearing what I feared appeared familiar less the shadows. 'Twas Shad, the shepherd's flock dog! Gladdened did I welcome him. Relieved I called his name. Bringing yet another sign of favor did he slowly approach the flame and lay beside me. Peaceful was my sleep renewed in wonder. V Dawning did the break of day Emblush the blued horizon. Too the twilight turned away the grey Unto the colours of the warming. Far unto the distant hills I gazed upon the vapors, And where the light consumed the shade, I thence began the next day of my journey. In truth I felt confusion's mate Form burrows on my brow, As if the cries the night before Still lingered, and betrayed mine apprehensions. Beside me then I hailed the hound, Who so renewed my courage, And as good Shad allayed my fears, I called upon my faith to lead me inland. Lifted then the misted veil. Resplendent was the glory. Blazing was the sun's ascension. Grateful did I sing unto the heavens. Forever did I leave the land of Simon. With rabbit hides tied around my waist And sheepskins o'er my shoulders, I crossed the brushwood borderlands And entered through the portals of the forest. Gracious timbers rising, ho! Never had I walked there, Except in dreams of childhood, When all was wonderment; and so it is still. Cool the shade befell the leaves. Amber was their aura. Here the autumn blossomed forth The promise of a season yet to come. Golden red the fading green Concealed what lay beyond me, As soon the trees entangled thickly Creeping grabbing vines and hanging brambles. Slowly did I pick my way Behind the hound's advances, 'Til stooping down I crawled Beneath the clinging, thorny branches, like the turtle. Cleaving then an oakwood bough I shaped a staff before me, And wielding this I stood my ground Against the twining curtain of the forest. Skins I wrapped around my feet, Tied above mine ankles. Ever was my blade unsheathed. Cautiously I hurried, ever mindful. Striking then I plunged my steps Into the heartland of the wild, And as the midday sun progressed, I battled with the jungle mine intrusions. Teeming was the forest world. Foreign were its sounds. Endless did it stretch forever. Hostile was the danger yet unspoken. Foul the crawling creatures of the earth Grew great in number; Many were the lizards' race, While secretly the snakes slid o'er the treelimbs. Ever did I strike and turn, Then strike again behind me. So too the jaws of Shad drew blood. Much to he I owe my living journey. Then flaming red the setting sun Did glow beyond the timbers, Descending past the leaves and trunks, It glimmered as it sifted through the shadows. Darker did the day dissolve As onward did I stumble, Till like unto a fly ensnared, I struggled in the spider web of nighttime. Climbing then unto the trees I took mine only shelter, And with my mouth upon my knees, I perched upon the branches like the raven. Little did I sleep amidst the murmurs. VI Long the night was slow to pass, as there unmoved I vigiled. So too the reek was cool and damp. Wide my nostrils flared unto the darkness. Then blue and greying hints of dawn revealed the rising vapors, and as the birds stirred to the change, the jungle came alive amidst the chatter. Thereunto the misted morn A third day did I wander, When through the cloud enshrouded dawn I came to hear the sound of rushing water, in the distance. Follow did I heed the call; so too the scent grew stronger. Then crashing through the vapor wall, I came into a valley in the forest. There I found a surging stream that sparkled in its flowing, while nigh above the opened trees, the sun broke through the clouds, unto the woodlands. Piping forth I called abroad and with my flute I shouted; Yea, like unto the feathered ones, I sang a song of freedom from the underwood. Pausing there beside the stream I drank unto the waters, and as I knelt into the crease, I watched the mists disperse upon the weed-tails. Wider did the world unfold beyond the creek's embankment; so too the channel deepened, and converged upon another, and grew stronger. Taking then the natural path I traced along its winding trail. Into the hills it grew in strength, 'til sleek the current rippled in its torment. Above the trees the sprays were rising. Constant was the muffled roar. Soon the sound became much louder; Rising there before me appeared a waterfall. Spouting forth straight down the hillside, crashing o'er the rocks below; high the clouds of mist spewed lightly. Wide the lake did flow unto the river Upon the rocks, above the pool I inched into the torrent, and climbing up the craggy walls I scaled the falling waters of the cataract. Wet the moss was slippery as I struggled in the fissures, 'til high atop the falls I turned, and gazed back unto the woodlands, and thence my journey. Far away the open sea was a blue sheen in the distance, while orange-green the forest world did spread out wide below me, and forever. Standing o'er the waterfall I called the hound to follow. At first he balked, and then complained, until he found a trail above the boulders. Turning then unto the hills I found no end to jungle. Ferocious was the river as I skirted on the edge beside the churning. Yet as the day grew older and the river turned more calm, I there emerged upon a field, as it cut into the forest; in a circle. Within the center of the lea there stood an ancient ashwood, in solitary greatness, and surrounded by a sea of golden grasses. Cool the breeze blew on my brow and waved across the meadow, as there unto the slender sprouts I feasted on the bounty and the goodness. Yet as I foraged o'er the fields I pictured then my brothers, who voyaged on the distant seas. Wooden was the armour of their vessel. There I saw my brothers' fates were tied with mine together; for like the day they yearn for land, so too I yearned for life beside the waters. Lingering then unto my dream the image focused on their craft, and as I walked back to the stream, I fashioned there a raft to take me onwards. Chipping first a stone-edged ax I cut unto the timbers, then tied the logs with braided lashings; strong the ropes of vine obeyed my fingers. Before the patchwork sky turned red I shaped a wooden platform, and there beside the river's edge I knotted tight the braids unto the moonrise. Leaning on its twisted roots I refuged 'neath the ashwood, and as I piped upon my flute, I watched the night descending onto the meadow. Gentle was the river, and its driftings... VII Peaceful was the ashwood world. Restfull did I slumber. Awakened by the greying dawn, I walked back to the river from the clearing There beside the water's edge I heaved my raft before me, And as it splashed down through the mist, I stepped upon the platform and pushed it onwards. Digging deep my wooden pole I toiled against the current, Though soon the way grew easier, When lifted was the fog upon the waters. Bright the day broke through the trees. Gleaming was the sunlit swirl. Raucous were the forest creatures; Little did they suffer mine intrusions. Barking by the riverside The hound stayed close and followed. Up the stream I led him onwards. Gentle were the breezes in the sunshine Far unto the ferns and weeds I drifted through the morning light, And as I traveled many leagues, So too the stream divided from its sources. Two more days I ventured eastward. Always were mine instincts sharp. Ever did I heed the whispers. By the stream I vigiled in the nighttime. It was halfway past the fifth day sun When the creek drew close and shallow; Much thicker grew the weed-tails, 'Til the waters disappeared unto the shadows. High above the sun still shone, Though I saw no more of daylight, As darkly wrapped above me Spread a canopy of leaves upon each other. Dim the shadowed pitch prevailed, Yet still some light there glimmered, As shimmering through the mists A blue reflection seemed to rise up in wispy pillars. Dark and dank I crossed the wooden cave And found no boundaries, Though soon the earth grew firmer, And the mud no longer clung to every footstep. Hushed the grove turned cold and still, Save the echo of the hoot-owl. The calling of the birds was silenced. No longer did I hear their constant chatter. Then sudden ceased the glowing vapours. Black the world beyond became. Growling softly by my side did Shad rear back. So too I sensed the danger in the darkness. Groping swiftly down I swooped And gathered twigs and branches; Then with my stones I struck a spark so strong It spread in great conflageration. Quickly racing flaming burning, Feasting on the forest floor, From fallen leaves they hurtled upwards, Blindingly expolding in the treetops. Through the blaze the hound ran wild. Behind the dog I tried to flee. Between the gaps of flame he darted. Crushed by crashing trees, he died in agony. Great the burning ball of fire Flared in fits of passion, And everywhere I turned I was surrounded by the furious inferno. Fierced was the raging, and the terror. VIII Thereunto the day beyond I woke amid the ashes, enfolded on a slab of stone, as I touched my bloodied gashes in confusion. Scorched and bruised my limbs uncurled. Burning were mine eyelids. Squinting through the smoking swirls I shook my head and marveled my miraculous survival. All that once was naught but wood now smouldered in the haze. The charcoaled stumps were once great timbers; Steaming were their roots displayed, defeated. Then turning 'round upon my knees my heart fell to my belly, as standing there behind me stood a whitened, frail old man beside the boulders. Long his tangled beard was thin and hung down from his cheekbones. Around his eyes the wrinkled skin did etch their deep designs upon his temples. "Drink thee, young one, draught this brew... Let fortune work her folly... Yea thee, young one, take it down..." Blinking did I gaze into the blueness of his eyes, as if the soul remembers, and I looked into the ages, beyond the centuries. Although his words were foreign I could understand his sounds, and grateful for the offering, I partook the wooden bowl and drank it quickly. Strange the taste was bitter as I gulped the potent brew. Sublimely cool it quenched my thirst. Deeply I inhaled the rich aromas. Soothingly mine aches and pains did fade by that elixer, 'til dreamily I dropped the bowl, and leaning back I eased upon mine elbows. "Rise, my son...come thou with me... Rest not beside these embers...". Then helping me onto my feet, he grasped my by the shoulders as I staggered. Delerious I rambled as he led me through the rubble, while clutching to his hairless robe; babbling as I stumbled through the cinders. Blindly did I follow him through the shadows of a crater, then down into a gaping hole. Cool the air was chilled within the tunnel. Guided through the black abyss I trusted my companion, yet as I gripped his bony wrist, the notion I had died grew real and haunting. Swooning did I bob and spin 'til I crumpled in the darkness. Convinced of my delusion I cried out unto the angel, "Please, have mercy..." IX Loud the thunder crackled forth And rumbled in the distance and the echo. Snapping back beyond the wind The heavens burst and trembled, And as the darkness shuddered, All the world returned the answer, and the question. Between the clouds the lightening flared And spread its blue-white fingers. Arousing from oblivion I woke unto the glimmer of jagged flashes. Gleaming were the grotto walls. Glowing were the boulders. Lying on a bed of straw, I heard the old man chanting 'neath the willow. "Wood of oak to ashes burn, Come nigh unto the elder... Yea, by the bark of broom to stir... Mote it be, forever... mote it be...". Through the shadows of the glade He stoked the stubborn fire, Invoking incantations, As the flicker of the flames blew, and then subsided. Dimly in the light he turned And scratched the ground in circles; Then with his hands upon the earth, He sat and closed his eyes, intoning, "Aouie..." Eerie was the ancient drone As it drew me from my weakness. Rising up from beyond the stones, I limped unto the willow, and faced the angel. "Nay," I cried, "Mourn not for me... I stand before thee, living! Yet tell me if this be a dream; Or if thou art be Death, then do thy duty!" With a gusty howl the wind regaled And whistled through the tension, As slow the old man raised his head, And motioned with his fingers to be silent. "Hush, my son, thy tongue be still... Our words lack understanding... Come...take thee of the learn'd swill, And listen to the language of thy heartbeat..." Sweeping with his hand across the ground He bid me welcome. Compelling was his toothless smile. Little could I doubt his good intentions. Then as I sat beside the hearth He dug into the fire, And lifting up a burning ball, He peeled the smoking leaves unto the center. From the middle of the cache He squeezed the steaming mushrooms. Dripping were the stems and caps As he filled his wooden cup with the running juices. Then shuffling to the willow tree He scraped the bark to powder, And sprinkled lightly in the drink, He handed me the potion, Chanting, "Hazel is the teacher As the flycap is the mood, With willow bark to ease thy pain... Bless'd be the spirit of the Oakwood..." Lifting it unto my lips I drained the wooden vessel, And when the cup was emptied, I grew flushed into the dizziness, and I listed. Reeling did I wretch and twist, And heaved unto the poison, Yet as I spat and clenched my fists, The fever waned and passed, and I grew calm again. "Rest thee, young one...panic not... The worst will soon be over..." Yet as I gasped to catch my breath, The meaning of his words seemed clearly spoken. Somehow he had changed mine ears To hear unto his fashion. Being thus, so too I spoke, And I heard with understanding unto his language. "Pray, old man, how comest thee here, To save me from the horror"" As I spoke these words he laughed, And he placed his slender fingers upon my shoulder. "Come not I, but thou hast come, Into the land of Hadaad, Lord o'er the Oakmen, And taker of all that sustaineth... I am he they call, Quantrill..." Saying this he paused And bowed his head unto the silence. Then standing did I face the west, And pointing to myself, I spoke with meaning. "And I am Lambert, son of Simon... I came here from the yonder sea..." And so I then continued, As I told him of my trials, and wayward wanderings. Yet as I last of all described My spark unleashing fire, His eyes grew dark and solemn, As he grimaced lo my tale of fear, and innocence. Grave and stern he stroked his beard, Reflecting on my story. Severe was his expression, As the firelight rekindled, unattended. "Praise thee, Quantrill... And all thy kin... In flesh thou art mine angel... Thou saved my life, And healed my wounds... Humbly do I serve thee as my savior..." Bright the bolts of lightening cracked And snaked across the willowed skies. Bowing down into the mist, I raised my lowered gaze unto the flashings. Burning were his eyes inflammed. Black they spewed his anger. "A curse to thee, And all thy race... I would that I had left thee to the ashes!" Stunned my words refused my tongue, As there he raved before me. Yea like a twig he snapped my staff In half and threw the splinters unto the fire. "Sacred is the Oakwood bough... Holy is the Ashwood... Worshipped is the Rowan, And the Aspen's fame is mighty Amongst the nations... All these trees and wooded plants Have powers thou must dream of... Beyond this rock their souls are screaming... Lambert, dost thou feel the shame?" "Judge me not in haste, my lord," I cried in vain denial. "Blame not I for Fate's resolves. We all move by the mandates of our fortunes...". "Yea, speak to me of omens, young one... Teach me what the stars foretold... Tell me of thy revelations... Share with me the wisdom of thy fathers...". "Please, my lord, mock not my faith... I pray thee, be not scornful...". "Then heed thee, young one, the Goddess's laws... To break Her great commandments brings misfortune!". Strong the wind blew through the willow. Far away the thunder groaned. O'er the trees the rains fell lightly. Misty grew the atmospheres between us. Bending to his condemnation, Meekly did I nod my head. Barely was my voice a whimper. Sickened by the pangs of guilt, I teetered. "Quantrill, thou art old and wise, I plead unto thy reason... Forgive me for my trespasses... I never meant to kill but for survival..." Scowling did he cast his gaze Unto the ebbing embers. Glowing were the reddened coals. Constant was the hissing, and the drizzle. "Thy reckless deed is over, done... Nothing now can change that... Yet burning are their angry souls... They cry out for their vengence in their agony...". Once again I felt the pall Weigh heavy on mine eyelids, While falling down onto my knees, I swayed before the willow, and the nausea. Upon mine elbows there I crawled, As the world took strange dimensions; The fire doubled, The mists grew thicker, While spinning 'round my vision were many Quantrills. Shuffling then he ambled forward. Kneeling down he touched mine ears. With his palms he cupped them lightly. Slowly 'round my head he traced a circle. "Soon, my son, thine eyes shall sleep... Return unto thy dreaming... Remember all to what we speak of... Take me as thine omen, Yea, as thy vaguery... Go thee hence unto the north... The polar star shall guide thee... Forget thee not to heed thine augur... Tarry not the marshes in the highlands...". Then reaching up into the tree He plucked an autumn locust, And rolled inside a willow leaf, He placed it in my pouch, beside my spark-stones. "In seven days across the moors, Thy path shall reach the Oakmen... Give them of this boon I send thee... Hold it in thine open hand... Draw not of thy stone-edged weapon... Honor all their warriors, lest they slay thee...". Trailing off his voice grew faint And drifted through the fading light, 'Til floating through the pelting rain, His speech again grew foreign, as he chanted, "Aouie..." Far unto the dismal night I slumbered. X Hushed the calm befell the shade And sifted through the greying dawn. The storm was gone. The rains had ended. Flitting were the bats unto the cave mouth. Abandoned there beside the tree, alone, I faced the morning. Black the hearth was long extinguished. Charred my staff in remnants pierced the ashes. Shouting loud the old man's name I called in all directions, Unanswered was the fading echo. Blended were the drippings with the splashes. Through the mists I searched the grotto. Empty were the cavern doors. Again I called the name of Quantrill. Vacant were the caves beyond the willows. Unsure if it was all a dream I reached into my skin-pouch. There I found the willow leaf. Unrolling it I stared unto the locust. Brown the empty shell was brittle. Broken did it greet my touch. Quickly I replaced the wrapping. Chilling was the power of the token. Stronger grew my recollections. Throbbing did my guilt return. Frightened was I by the wizard. Haunted by his words I fled the grotto. Unto the mists I scaled the hill And found the path had been foretold, For there atop the lair of Quantrill, I stood upon the threshold of the moorlands. Thick the fog hung low in patches. Drifting were the rolling mists. Barren was the desolation. Swishing was the wind unto the vapours. There upon the rock I lingered, Scanning o'er the broken skies. When I spied three crows fly 'cross the moor, 'Til they circled o'er the willow; There they landed. Others came, and their numbers grew, As the grotto filled with blackbirds. Descending down into the mists, They gathered on the boulders in the twilight. There I watched them congregate, A black mass in the vapours, Cawing in cacophany, As they talked amongst themselves, and to their leader. Yet as the swarm attracted more Still one remained above them, Erect upon his talons, There he spread his open wings unto the homage. High and proud upon his perch He slowly fanned his feathers; Rasping spewed his sudden bursts, As he issued forth his orders unto the legion. Great the tribute grew in scores In the dim grey of the morning, Yet as a I turned to face the dawn I glimpsed the great destruction beyond the grotto. Kneeling down in disbelief I scanned the bleak horizon Amid the fog the blackened timbers Few and far between no longer forest Then stepping back upon the ridge My foot slipped on a boulder Tumbling rock rained down the gorge, And an avalanche of stones fell on the blackbirds. All at once they took to wing And screeched above the grotto. In fear I warned them back from me, As I ran into the moorlands, and they followed. Swooping in pursuit, relentless, Chasing me into the dawn, Pecking at my head and neck; They dug their long, sharp claws into my shoulders. Then swinging 'round my sheepskin pouch I struck unto the ravens. Between their beady eyes and snouts I hit the mark; Down onto the ground fell many feathers. Reluctantly they turned and soared And left me to my journey. Beyond the mists I heard them cawing. Breathing hard I rested in the moorlands. There amid the wind-blown weeds I crouched upon the hillside, And as the blush befell the east, I dabbed my bloodied scratches, and went onwards. Purple was the heather in the sunrise. XI Warm the dawn burned through the vapours. Blazing was the crimson sky. Coarse the earth revealed its contours. Bare the stark exposure stretched for miles. Far and wide the moors expanded. Treeless spread the broad plateaus. Clefted were the rills and valleys. Pathless was the wasteland through the thistles. Ever did I venture northward, Drinking from the hidden springs, Eating ferns, moss, and grub worms; Like unto the rodents did I scavenge. High the hawks would glide in circles, Peering down upon their prey. Diving swiftly down they plunged And snared their squirming victims with their talons. Hungry were the hunters hunted. Ever were the snakes unseen. Coiling in the cracks of boulders, Patiently they hissed unto the waiting. Too the jackels found my scent And joined the grey hyenas. Coveting my tasty flesh, They fought amongst themselves, and gave me warning. Cutting through a bush of thorns I brandished forth my weapon. Retreating did they curse and snarl, As I kept them at their distance, talking evilly. Long the days I walked in silence, Wary of each dip and turn, Tracking far into the twilight, Uncertain was my mission unto the Oakmen. Twice the night drew clear and gleaming. Never did I venture forth. Moonlit were the moors deceiving. Stealthy were the creatures of the shadows. Every night I thought of Quantrill, Marking where the pole star beamed, Holding forth the locust fragments. Unto the wizard's boon I sat and wondered. Then grey the days turned damp and dreary. Rolling were the brindled skies. A misted fog spread 'cross the moorlands. Lost and cold I wandered through the vastness. Astray upon the lonely moor On the seventh day I quested When moist the hard terrain grew soft, And I stumbled on the borders of the marshlands. Above the sun betrayed the promise. Behind me lay the southern moors. Unto the north and east lay quagmire. Caught between the wastelands, I roamed in limbo. Slowly did the shadows lengthen. In vain I tried to skirt the ridge. Helpless did I fall forsaken, As I tarried on the terrace in confusion. Again I heard the words of Quantrill, Warning to avoid the swamps, Reminding me of unknown perils: "Tarry not the marshes in the highlands..." Stiffened then my shoulders quivered, Startled by the howling wolves. Mournfully they called each other. Piercing were their cries, and every answer. Scrambling down a dark ravine I found a natural shelter, And gleaning o'er the rocks for weeds, I gathered forth the kindling from the dampness. Upon the rock I rapped my spark-stones. Wet the weeds refused to burn. Valiantly I struck them harder, Pounding in the darkness, much like my heartbeat. Thick the smoke then burned mine eyes, As bright the smoulder sparkled. Without so much as one dry twig, I blew upon the weeds, and lit the fire. Nervous was mine agitation. Cold the wind fought with the flames. Behind the clouds the moon was hidden. Deafening was the crackling amid the silence. Then in the dark the beastly band Howled closer to my shelter. Firm I grasped my bush in hand, As I clutched my stone-edged dagger ever tighter. Pressed against the leeward wall I peered into the black of night, Yet as the moon broke through the clouds, I saw the racing outlines of their shadows. Swift and fierce the pack attacked me. Vicious was their cruel assault. Into their snouts I shoved the thorn stick. Snapping in their jaws it crushed to pieces. Then glancing up atop the ridge I glimpsed a pouncing shadow, And like as quick I raised my dagger. Hard upon the ground the beast fell heavy. Deep my blade pierced the heart of the wolf, As he dropped and died in anguish. The others growled and backed away. Gleaming were their fangs unto the moonlight. Desparate then I seized the chance And sprinted toward the misted swamp. Advancing fast they gained behind me. Close upon my heels I felt their panting. Then lunging forth I left my feet And splashed into the murky haze, While churning high my legs and knees, As I thrashed into the darkness of the marshlands. Dank the wretched reek was rank and loathesome. XII Through the fen I feld I panic, Frantic in my haste to escape the workpack. Loud and shrill they howled behind me. Cold the scum splashed to my chest. Deep my feet sank in the quagmire. Slimy was the muck below the surface. Blackness blended with the gases. Dense the mists concealed my steps. Blinded was my wayward passage. Quickened was my breath unto the vapours. Then suddenly a marsh hen squawked And the air was filled with flapping wings, For there amidst its nest of stalks, I had stumbled on its lair and lost my footing. Down beneath the bog I tumbled, Startled by the frightened bird. I gasped for breath, Yet gulped the quagmire. Putrid were the waters of stagnation. Wallowing in a coughing fit I choked unto the foulness, As from the taste I heaved and spit. Wide mine open mouth gagged to the riddance. Crawling then upon my knees I scuttled through the waters, And as I wretched amid the reeds, I steadied out my balance and went onwards. Wading through the mists I wandered. Behind the beasts had ceased their howls, The swamp seemed calm, yet sinister. Whirling was the hoot-owl in the distance. A hundred mouths drooled in the darkness; A thousand eyes were watching. Drenched and lost I roamed the marshland. Fearsome were the demons of exhaustion. Ever were the dangers lurking Every step held things unseen. Behind me was I always turning. Evil was the marshland, dark and deadly. Dim the dawn soon dulled the vapours. Ghostly was the greying swirl. Pale the mists rose up in layers. Hazy loomed the swamp unto the morning. Beams of light slashed through the reek, Filtering through the gloomy glare, And as I parted back the reeds, The water steamed and rippled unto my sloshing. Tiny were the flying creatures, Buzzing 'round my face and head. Into mine eyes and ears they ventured. Ever were they swarming o'er the waters. Larger gnats would bite and sting me. Swatting did I flail mine arms. Repulsive were the clinging things, As they leeched upon my legs unto their suckings. Toward the north the swamp grew lush And hindered me in every way. Immersed up to my waist I trudged As I cleared the vile decay with my shriveled fingers. High the reeds reached to my neck As they fought my penetrations. Submerged their roots embraced my footsteps, Entangling 'round mine ankles, long and stringy. Sparse and bare the barkless trees Stood pale amid the vapours, Displaying vines instead of leaves; Draped upon the branch stumps, down they dangled. Too the snakes were open-mouthed, Disguised within the twining. Outstretched in ambush, hanging down, They blew not in the breeze, and so I spied them. Foul the taste remained offensive, Lingering upon my tongue, Corrupting deep inside mine innards. Burning was the fire within my belly. Nothing could I drink or swallow. All the world decayed unclean. Nowhere could I find a refuge. Onward in retreat I fell with illness. Cold the sweat did bead my brow As I shivered, chilled with fever. Sharp, hot cramps shot deep and painful. Parched mine open lips grew dry and blistered. Dim my vision blurred and misted. Sluggish was my body numbed. My steps grew short, My breathing shallow. Consuming were the flashes, and I grew weaker. On into the seething gases, Somehow did I find my way. Dreamlike was my aimless passage. Strange hallucinations filled the vapours. Once I seemed to see my father. Ghostly did he walk the reek. Long we spoke in conversation. Floating there around us loomed my brothers. "Follow east," one recommended. "Nay, go west," two more advised. "Thy path lay north," the others urged me. Arguing with Simon soon they vanished. In their place I saw the crows, Awaiting me in the deadwood trees. Unto my fate they raised their voices. Quantrill was their leader, and he listened. Calling out they pressed their charges, Cawing loud in a clamor of noise. Defenselessly I swooned in silence. Guilty was the verdict, unto their grumblings. Then Quantrill raised and flapped his wings As he spoke unto the raven horde: "The destroyer, Lambert, seeks a new land! Forever is his journey doomed to wander..." For many days, perhaps for weeks I stumbled through the marshlands Beset by clouds of great fatigue Confronting strange delusions unto the vapours... Timeless was the wasteland of my dreamings.

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