Thursday, 21 December 2017
Far away, beyond the Mountains Of The Moon which touch the sky, lies the land of Eternia. A great and ancient land it is, and from its iron-hard soil empires have risen and crumbled to dust, only to rise again.
Two nations now ruled in Eternia; one was the mighty Kingdom of Light, with its soaring white-walled cities studded with towers blue as the sky, great and prosperous cities which clung to the mountains and stood sentry over valleys and rivers. And in its halls and markets was delight and enjoyment, for the people knew that they were mighty and good, and that they had the wiles of the mightiest of mages at their beck and call; and, more, that they had the gods themselves on their side.
On the arid plains around the fringes of eroded plateaus clung the Shadow Land. Its towns were festering mazes of mud-bricked walls and streets of rammed earth; and in them teemed its people, short, broad, and ugly, with their grunting language and barbaric manners, so unlike the tall, graceful citizens of the Kingdom of Light. And so savage were they that they acknowledged not the gods of the Light, and indeed had turned their backs on them for all time to come.
On the Crystal Throne in the Great Palace in the Capital of the Kingdom of Light sat the King Naftali. Young and handsome, gifted as a genius from mythology, he held the favour of all the gods, and his people loved him almost to the point of worship; but he was a troubled man.
So he called his advisors around him, white-bearded men and silken-tressed women with skin smooth as porcelain and eyes filled with the light of knowledge, and he told them that he was sore troubled.
“What ails you, O King?” they asked.
And the King Naftali responded: “Last night I had a dream, in which I was carried out of my body and to the highest peak of the Mountains Of The Moon, Taviv, whose tip pierces the sky. And there I saw, seated on its summit, the gods of the Light, dressed in blue and white, and the blaze of glory from them was so strong that I had to avert my eyes. There were Burion and Mayan, Geir and Megin; there were Seres and Yabin; and, between them all, there was the great Father God, Terzl himself.
“ ‘What do you want of me, gods?’ I asked, and they replied, in unison:
“ ‘The barbarians of the Shadow Land are offensive in our sight. They do not acknowledge us, and they do not acknowledge you, who stand in our favour and who are our chosen to rule over them. Go you forth and destroy them, for if you do not, we will withdraw our favour from you, and in time the Shadow Land will destroy you.’
“Then the Father God Terzl spoke alone: ‘There will be those among you who think that the Shadow Land barbarians are not your enemies; this is folly, and folly is insupportable in the sight of the gods. Act without mercy against such folly.’ And in a trice I found myself back in my bed, and the morning light was streaming into my eyes.”
So spake the King Naftali; and the advisors murmured among themselves. “It is true, O King,” one said eventually, “that the barbarians grow more numerous by the day, and that they refuse to acknowledge our divine right to rule over them, just as they reject the gods of the Light. Long ago we sent armies against them, and drove them from the mountains and the verdant valleys to the fringes of the arid plains; but there they have stood fast, and, try as we might, we can drive them back no further.”
“And,” added a woman advisor, whose name was Ayet, “there are those among the people who have lost sons and brothers, fathers and sweethearts, in these wars, and who murmur that those lives have been thrown away. They say that the barbarians, ugly and uncouth and repugnant though they be, are no danger to us, and that we should leave them alone to their destiny as we pursue ours.”
“That is folly in the eyes of the Father God himself,” the king replied. “And he ordered me, in his own words, to act without mercy against such folly. Go now with soldiers and make an example of these people. Cleanse their sins with their blood, so that the Kingdom of Light should see no more such as them till the end of time.”
“The problem remains, O King,” the other advisors continued, after Ayet had departed on her holy mission. “Try as we might, our armies can drive the barbarians back no further. Although our soldiers are the finest the world has ever seen, and the barbarians are only a rabble, they still hold out against all we can do.”
“The Father God and all the gods will help us,” the King Natali declared. “This time, we will send our armies against them, and they will sweep the barbarians from the land until only their blood is left drying on the stones.”
And so the armies of the Kingdom of Light set forth, the sun glinting on their helmets and off the blades of their spears; the earth trembled under their marching boots and the iron-clad hooves of their horses; and many a maiden thrilled with joy to know that her sweetheart was among them, gone to fight a holy war on behalf of nobody less than the gods.
And the armies of the Kingdom of Light fell upon the Shadow Land, and they turned the sky red with fire; but instead of fleeing or begging to surrender, the barbarians rose up in vengeance from their festering towns and their teeming slums. And when it was over, the blood was indeed drying on the stone; but most of the blood was the Kingdom of Light’s own. And many were the flowing tears of maidens whose sweethearts would return to bed them no more.
Then the advisors returned to the Great Palace, where King Naftali sat on his Crystal Throne; and deep was their gloom, because they had failed the command of the gods, and the failure meant that the favour of the gods would forever be forfeit.
But the King Naftali rose up from the throne and chided them. “Do you give up so easily?” he asked. “Our armies have failed, but they have only had steel and fire on their side. Go now to my mages, and see what their magic can create. Go now to them, and have them forge for us a hero, one who can scatter the hordes of the Shadow Land as so much chaff before the blowing wind.”
So the advisors went to the mages, with their steaming cauldrons and their astral charts, their waxes and their potions, and they put to them the king’s command.
And the mages took their magic, and from among them created a Hero.
Tall he was as the mightiest oaks in the mountains, and mighty as the rocks that made the walls of the cities of the Light. His face was as a crag of granite, his eyes as twin stars blazing in the night. When he walked the ground trembled as at the tread of warrior hosts; and his strength was such that he might tear asunder the earth and let it swallow up the waves of the sea.
And the magicians came to him, and forged for him armour from the endless vaults of their magic; it was white as the snows, light as the air, and yet strong as the very towers of the Light, which had stood for a thousand times a thousand years. They forged for him a helm that was like unto an eagle’s countenance, with a visor hooked like the predator’s beak, and with gloves that were supple as leather yet strong enough to be unharmed by the hottest fire. For his feet they made boots that bit into the hardest stone and turned it to dust, so that he might never fear to tread on the most treacherous of surfaces. They gave him a shield, which was as big around as a chariot wheel, and which could turn aside the thrust of the strongest spear, and shatter its tip beside. And then they made for him a sword, so huge that only one as he might ever wield it. It was blue as the ice and sharp enough to cut the northern wind; and they called it Eitan. And so Hero was born.
And the King Naftali and the mages and the priests of the gods came and blessed Hero; and he saluted them and left the cities of the Light the mountains and the valleys behind, and stalked out on the arid plain, to bring to the Shadow Land the wrath of the gods. And the people of the Light rejoiced to see him go forth on his mission of vengeance.
And Hero fell on the barbarians of the Shadow Land, and began to lay their cities to ruin; the streets ran with their blood, and though their armies sallied forth in their multitudes, they were as nothing to him.
And in the dark and noisome Hall of Peoples in Azag, their capital, the chiefs of the Shadow Land came together to confer, and worry and despair was in their eyes.
“We have little enough,” they said, “and we would be content to live on that little; but it seems that even that is too much to allow us. For this Hero the Light has thrown against us destroys our armies with no effort, and then lays ruin to our cities, and crushes our women and children under his boots. We have done all we could, but we can do no more.”
But one of them, a young chief called Hollah, spake out: “There is still one thing we have not tried, that is open for us to do; the Black Woman who lives on the shores of the Lake of Despair can help us.”
“The Black Woman is a witch,” the others objected.
“The Light is working magic against us,” Hollah replied, “and our flesh and blood, no matter how valiant, is powerless against magic. The only way to save our people is to use magic in return, and but for the Black Woman, magic we have none.”
So the chiefs sent Hollah to the Black Woman who lived by the Lake of Despair; and after a perilous journey he arrived at that dreadful place, ringed by hills black as night, with water so deep that no bottom had ever been found to it.
The Black Woman lived in a hut on the shore, a hut that was as though part of the living rock; and, humbly touching the earth before the door in obeisance, he begged her leave to enter.
Nobody had ever seen the Black Woman’s face; her body, from her head to her feet, was draped in black; only her pale hands, restless as the winds, moved ceaselessly as she listened impassively to the young chief.
“You will have what you need,” she said eventually. “Go back to Azag, and tell the other chiefs that help is at hand. Go now, and until you enter the gates of Azag, do not stop, and do not look back, no matter what. Go.”
So the chief Hollah touched the ground before the Black Woman’s feet once more, left her and the Lake of Despair behind, and made his perilous journey back to the city. And all the way he heard another set of footsteps behind him, almost at his shoulder, so that it was all he could do not to look behind him. But he remembered the words the Black Woman had said, and not once did he stop or look back, until he had entered the gates of Azag; and then for a moment he could not look back even had he wanted to, for Hero was striding towards the city, his mighty sword Eitan in hand.
And the chiefs came to Hollah, their eyes filled with hopelessness. “Our nation’s destruction is upon us,” they cried. “If Azag falls to the Hero of Light, all is lost for us.”
But the chief Hollah entreated them not to lose hope. “The Black Woman promised us that help is at hand,” he said. “Indeed, something followed me all the way from the Lake of Despair, and now waits outside the gate.”
“Let us go and see, then,” said the chiefs, and followed him to the gate of the city; and there they saw what had been following Hollah all the way from the Black Woman’s house on the shores of the Lake of Despair.
It was in the shape of a man, but a man of a sort as none of them had ever seen; of only a little above medium height, he was clad in a tunic of white that fell to his knees, and a short jacket of ochre. His head was swathed in cloth, so that of his face only his dark eyes were visible; and he had no weapons that they could see, not even a spear; all he had was, in his hand, a strange instrument of wood and metal.
And the chiefs looked at him with astonishment and despair; for Hero had destroyed entire armies, and this was just a man, and not even a warrior in armour, or a giant as big as the one coming across the plain. “Hero will destroy him without a thought,” they said. “The Black Woman played us for fools.”
But Hollah, although as filled with doubt as any of the others, touched the ground before the strange man in salute. “Do as we requested the Black Woman that you should do,” he said.
And the man looked at him out of his dark eyes, and looked at Hero striding at Azag across the plain; and then he went out to meet Hero.
And Hero saw him coming, and laughed loud enough to shake the sky and bring stones tumbling down from the hills. “The barbarians of the Shadow Land have run out of armies,” he taunted, in his voice loud as thunder. “They can only send one man out to fight the gods of Light.”
And he lifted his visor, like the beak of an eagle, and peered at the man walking towards him across the plain; and, laughing once more, he raised the mighty sword Eitan towards the sky. The sun flashed on it as bolts of lightning, and the wind hummed and sang around it as in the broken sockets of dust-smeared skulls; the sword sang of death, of all the blood it had split, and in promise of the blood it would drink now; and Hero’s boots crushed the plain to dust, as onward he came, roaring a song of battle that would make the blood thrum in the most placid heart.
And then the man in white and ochre with the cloth-swathed face calmly raised his rifle and shot Hero, once and precisely, right between the eyes.
“What was it like?” the Black Woman asked afterwards, when the man in ochre and white had returned. “Did you have any trouble?”
“Did you expect me to?” the man asked, with a smile.
“No,” she replied, with a smile in return. “If I had, I’d have gone with you.”
“Exile in this time and place does have its benefits,” said the man, and held out his arms. And the woman came to him, and held him tight.
And, meanwhile, the vengeful armies of the Shadow Land, Hollah at their head, fell upon the Kingdom of the Light, and laid it to waste. And the Crystal Throne was broken and its fragments ground to dust that blew in the wind through the emptied halls of the Great Palace of the Light.
And the favour of the gods was forever undone.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017
[Based on a dream of the author’s.]
[*Yes, the man in white and the Black Woman are Colin and Rose. Yes, they are.]
[*Yes, the man in white and the Black Woman are Colin and Rose. Yes, they are.]
Sunday, 17 December 2017
After a hard day of hunting and gathering, Dimbulb returned to his cave to find a dinosaur in the front garden.
Dimbulb hadn’t had a good day of hunting and gathering. In fact he hadn’t managed to hunt anything at all. The very sight of him – or maybe the smell of him – had sent every bird or beast running for the wide blue yonder. And as for gathering, all he had was a root and a handful of grubs. Grubs probably couldn’t smell, and roots were too slow to run away. He’d had two handfuls of grubs, but had been hungry so he’d eaten one. And they’d been black-headed grubs, which weren’t very tasty, not like the yellow-headed grubs in the other handful. But he knew that his woman would murder him if she didn’t have yellow-headed grubs for supper, and he had no desire to be murdered.
So Dimbulb’s day had been fairly awful, and as the most awful part of it, there was the dinosaur in the front garden.
The dinosaur was large and brightly coloured, the black and white feathers on its body set off by the yellow wattles on its neck and the bright red crest on its head. It was rooting in the nearest flower bed when Dimbulb arrived, its stiff pointed tail held out behind to balance it so it didn’t fall on its face. The state of the flower garden showed that it had already been rooting around for some time.
The front garden was the invention, pride and joy of Dimbulb’s woman, the lady Uga, and she was out in it as well, swatting at the dinosaur with a broom made of leaves tied to a stick with vines.
The broom was also Uga’s invention, pride, and joy, and she was understandably wary of wrecking it by actually bringing it into contact with the dinosaur, which is why her swatting had no effect on it at all.
“What are you doing standing there?” the lady Uga shouted, seeing Dimbulb. “Come here and chase the dinosaur away!”
Dimbulb took a wary look at the dinosaur. It didn’t look like it was in any hurry to be chased away. It looked as though it wanted to settle down in the front garden for some time to come. And he thought that it would probably be a very good idea to let it do as it wanted. A safe idea, anyway.
On the other hand...
“Do something, you snivelling coward!” Uga shouted. “Or I’ll break this broom over your head and make another!”
Dimbulb took a look at her advancing threateningly towards him, and then at the dinosaur. There was little to choose between them. “Maybe,” he suggested, “I could club it over the head instead of chasing it off? Then we could eat it for dinner.”
“Do it, then,” Uga said, mollified. “Do it.”
The dinosaur had even less intention of being clubbed over the head and being eaten for dinner than it did of being chased away. It raised its head, the better to see them with, and opened its mouth, the better for them to see its teeth with. It swung its stiff long tail, and with one swipe knocked the club right out of Dimbulb’s hand. Then it went back to rooting in the front garden, with a self-satisfied air.
Dimbulb looked at Uga. Uga looked at Dimbulb. Together they looked at the dinosaur. Both of them swallowed painfully.
“I think,” Dimbulb said at last, “that we might as well let the dinosaur stay where it is, at least for now.”
“After all, it’s not like we can’t do without a front garden,” his woman agreed. “It’s not like it would ever catch on, anyway.”
The dinosaur was a she.
They discovered this the next morning when they found that she’d dug a nest in the remnants of the front garden, and deposited six large eggs inside it. She was standing proudly over it when Dimbulb and Uga emerged.
“Look, eggs,” Uga said. “I think I’ll invent omelettes. They’ll be my pride and joy.”
The dinosaur let her know what she thought of Uga’s new invention, pride and joy.
“You’d better invent hair styling,” Dimbulb suggested, looking at what remained of Uga’s flowing locks. “It can be your new pride and joy instead.”
The dinosaur looked inquisitively at Dimbulb, who promptly resolved to invent shaving if necessary, and make it his pride and joy. But apparently her appetite was temporarily sated with Uga’s hair, and she went back to arranging her eggs.
“No omelette, then,” Uga grumbled. “You go and hunt and gather. And bring back more yellow headed grubs, you hear?”
“There aren’t any yellow headed grubs to be had,” Dimbulb said, as he walked away. And all day, though he searched high and low, and found plenty of black headed grubs and even some tasty caterpillars, yellow headed grubs he gathered none at all. And, of course, he didn’t hunt anything either.
“Perhaps I should invent bathing,” he muttered to himself, as yet another animal raced away for the horizon as soon as he drew near. “It could be my pride and joy.” But the moment he thought that, he remembered that Uga would never forgive him for inventing something that wasn’t her pride and joy, so there wasn’t anything he could do. And anyway, getting food was more on his mind.
“We’re going to have to do something about that dinosaur,” Uga said, as they sat munching caterpillars that evening. “Things can’t just go on like this.”
“Maybe we should change caves?” Dimbulb suggested timidly. “People do change caves sometimes, you know. Grok from the next canyon even invented a moving company to help them do it. It’s his pride and joy.”
“I don’t want to change caves,” Uga said. “And anyway why should we move? We were here first. Let the dinosaur move!”
“There’s a very good cave two canyons over,” Dimbulb pointed out. “They say it even has access to a pool of water. If I could invent this bathing thing I’ve been thinking about...”
“I hate those stuck-up women who live two canyons over!” Uga screamed. “Just because they have flowers growing there they wear them in their hair and think they’re so superior. They even talk about inventing something called horticulture.” She looked so angry that if there weren’t still a few caterpillars to be eaten, Dimbulb would have retreated to the far corner of the cave. “Don’t you dare tell me to move there, ever again.”
“But what can we do about the dinosaur, then?” Dimbulb asked. “We can’t fight her, can we? She’s too big.”
A look of low cunning suffused Uga’s lovely features. “She goes off to look for food every day,” she said. “That’s the time when you should do it.”
“Do what?” Dimbulb asked, dimly.
“Why, you dim fool, can’t you invent intelligence for once? It might be your pride and joy. I mean you should go and take the eggs, of course. Bring them in here and we’ll have omelettes, after all.”
“But...” Dimbulb began.
“But nothing. You do that tomorrow, or I’ll be forced to invent treatments for the skull fracture I’m going to inflict on you.”
So the next day Dimbulb didn’t go to work at hunting and gathering. Instead, he stayed in the cave, watching the dinosaur, who stood looking around and occasionally preening her feathers proudly. A thought struck him.
“What happens when she finds her eggs gone?” he asked, inventing a whisper as he did so in order to not tip off the dinosaur. “Won’t she be out to find them and take revenge on whoever removed them?”
“We’ll just hide inside the cave until she gives up and goes away,” Uga whispered back, instantly infringing on the patent of Dimbulb’s invention. Dimbulb knew well enough not to mention it.
“What if she tries to come into the cave?” he asked instead. “She’s small enough to squeeze through the entrance.”
“That’s why I invented this.” Uga pointed at something in the shadows, and Dimbulb saw that it was a framework of pieces of wood lashed together with vines. “As soon as you get the eggs, I’ll pull it across the entrance. I call it a door, and it’s going to be another pride and joy.”
Dimbulb didn’t point out that the door was too frail to take a poke of the dinosaur’s bony crest, or a kick from one of her talons. “What if she doesn’t go away for days?” he asked.
“What if she doesn’t?” Uga replied, with a shrug. “Six dinosaur eggs should give enough omelettes to last us a while.”
So Dimbulb didn’t say anything more. Soon afterwards, the dinosaur took a final look around, shook her long stiff tail, and stalked away.
“She’ll be back soon,” Uga said, as soon as the dinosaur was out of sight. “Go and get the eggs, quickly!”
Taking a deep breath, Dimbulb came out of the cave and walked over to the eggs. Just as he was about to bend to take hold of the first one, there was a huge roar, and a dinosaur came charging through the bush.
It was a horrible dinosaur. It was all teeth and jaws and claws, and it tore up pieces of the ground as it charged, and it came straight for Dimbulb, far too quickly for him to get away.
There was only one thing to do, so he did it. He took the club from where it hung around his loincloth, and he began to swipe it at the dinosaur’s snout, trying hard to keep it at bay.
And it was at that very moment that his dinosaur, the mother of the eggs, attracted by the roars and Uga’s screams, returned.
She returned like vengeance made flesh and blood, legs pounding on the ground, jaws agape, feathers flying. She came so fast that the other dinosaur didn’t have a chance to turn and fight. With a squeak of fear it turned around and disappeared as quickly as it had come.
Dimbulb looked up at his dinosaur. His dinosaur looked down at him.
Then she bent down and rubbed him gently with her crest, whuffed companionably in his ear, and then she licked him.
“She thought I was protecting her eggs from the other dinosaur,” Dimbulb said.
Uga nodded shakily. “What shall we do now?” she asked. “I no longer have a front garden, and I can’t invent omelettes.”
“Maybe she’ll go away when the babies are hatched,” Dimbulb suggested.
“Not a chance.” Uga pointed outside, where the dinosaur was scraping together earth and stone. “She’s inventing a house. She’s here to stay.”
And so it proved. The house was the dinosaur’s pride and joy. And her babies took to wandering into Uga’s cave to play with her whenever they got bored, and Uga had to feed them any spare caterpillars and grubs lying around.
Meanwhile the hunting was impossible, because Dimbulb had still not got around to inventing a bath. And Uga had her own problems.
“Those women from two canyons over were jeering at me because I didn’t have any flowers in my hair,” she whined. “How can I have flowers without a front garden, and how can I have a front garden with the dinosaurs out there?”
“Flowers in your hair are so sixty six million BC,” Dimbulb tried to console her. “We’re now in modern times.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” his woman snapped. “Dates haven’t been invented yet, and when they are, they’ll be nobody’s pride and joy.” She wandered disconsolately to the cave entrance. “It’s almost winter,” she said. “The dinosaurs are moulting their feathers. Even they have...” she stopped suddenly. Dimbulb might have thought she’d been shot, if only anyone had seen fit to invent a gun.
“What is it?” he asked finally.
“Feathers!” Uga gasped. “Come quickly, and help me gather all the feathers you can!”
“Why?” Dimbulb asked, but conditioned reflex made him spring to obey. Soon they were back in the cave with armfuls of shed feathers. “What do you want these for?”
“You’ll see,” Uga said, and began sticking feathers in her hair and in her tree-bark bikini. “You’ll see!”
The women of two canyons away saw Uga parading by in her feathers, and got to work on their men. They in their turn came to Dimbulb offering half their kills, in return for feathers. And the dinosaurs grew more all the time, so they never ran out.
Uga is very happy with what she invented. She calls it High Fashion. It’s her pride and joy.
Dimbulb thinks it might last a year or two, if they’re lucky.
Maybe not even that long.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017
Once I had legs, and you had
It was, you said, a fair exchange,
My legs for your bomb.
Once I had a life
And you took it away
Blew it to tatters and pieces
Spread it in the dust
With your bomb.
I scraped it together, piece by piece
I built it back again.
You took my legs, I got wheels
You couldn’t take my voice
You couldn’t take my tongue.
Those were too dear to barter away
Like my country that you occupy
With your walls and your settlers
Your blue white flags, your monster tanks, your fire-spitting guns.
But there was another exchange you could make
A sniper bullet, for my life
The life I’d scraped from the dust.
It was, you think perhaps
A good bargain.
It will not be.
From each drop of my flowing blood
My life will rise again
You will see.
You will see.
You will see.
You will see.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017
[For Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, murdered by the racist apartheid colonial settler zionazi pseudostate in Occupied Palestine.]