Short Story: …And Over Head The Stars Danced

The old man sat hunched at the fire, his tatter fur robe draped over his thin shoulders. The dark fur worn, and now thin, blew loosely in the breeze. The old man’s walking staff rested against his shoulder. The old man’s skin, like vegetal cured leather, gathered in deep furrows, weathered by the long years of hot and cold. The wisps of light hair, gray and silver, gently ripple in the cool night breeze. The fire burns low, its yellow fingers dancing with the wind.  From the shadows sneak children, having tiptoed away from the shelters and cooking fires of their families. They seek the worm light of the flame, venturing out to the stone fire ring of the wispy old man.

“Gather round.” Says the old man. “Gather round and I will tell you a story that you think you know.”

The young kids find a place tight around the fire, hunched close to the worm radiant heat.

“You’ve heard the tale of ancients past, about the one who smote the dark lord on these very mountains. You’ve sung the poems of the gallant hero. But listen to me now,” spoke the old man as he hunched forward, his eyes peering bellow his silver hair like piercing stars. “I will tell you the true story.  Listen to me, for I know the truth, and not from poem or the lullabies of your mothers.  Hear me now as I speak it, and listen hard.  For I will tell the tale of hero, and the dark one he fought. But be warned this tale may seem like a story from your dreams, for it happened in a time between what was, and what is.  When the earth was still new, the forms were just beginning. Not all was complete and set like it is today. The earth was still learning to breath. But listen close,” said the old man. “For what I tell you is true, for I have seen it with my own eyes.”

This story starts long ago before the foundation stones of the great council houses were set. Long ago when the world as we know it was just beginning, and when the thick grasses on the mountains were a mere green dusting, and the breezed ran wild and warm. Man and mortals were just coming into this land. Settling the great plains and hills, building longhouses of thatch and stone. The kings of men had not yet been called. Only elders and chiefs led their members, planting sustenance on the hills.

“It was a world ripe for change… when he came. Actually not a “he”’, the old man corrected himself, “but an it. Where he came from, I do not know. He seeped from the dark places. From chasms far below, where he was cast by the accents. But the world was shifting and the magic which held him for so long, weakened.

The ancients who protected and tended the world were long gone away, so he made his move. In this opportunity  from the depts. He pulled himself, like wisps of dark smoke, of ash and tar.  He didn’t flow, but almost seeped from the dark. Emerging slowly on the surface, in the clean light of day.  He saw the world in its young beauty.  A passing breeze, caught, if almost by accident, a little of the mist that surrounded him.  Tainted, it scatted in fear, the mist spreading with it.  The darkness hit the clouds over head, turning them from clean white to ominously dark. The clean breeze turned musk and rotten. The ancient foe could feel the freshness of the place he stood, and in this place, the dark being laughed. Not a happy laugh, but one dark twisted.

“Be gone hearts of man.” he spoke in mirth and chuckle. “Let fear enter in. Who will shelter you from my darkness? Speed oh winds, carry my words to the far tribes. For this place is no longer free. Hide and run, quake and fear, kneel and submit, but know this it’s all in vain. Run wind run, for I am here.”

The children huddle closer around the fire, all eyes on the old man who had paused. The silence was only defiled by the low howl of the wind, as it flowed over the mountains. The old man had paused, his mind seeing the memories from a time past. Memories that had once been bright, now faded with time.  Emotions mixed with faces and images, linked together a filament worn thin, yet they still held togeather. It was a long silence before the old man continued.

“It was long ago that the world was formed, molded out of clay, and stone, and iron. That was long before the first man, a mysterious time. But even then the world was not empty. Before man, immortals walked the earth, warriors who were the first to live here. They fought the first of the great battles. They danced with the light turning the world from the dark. The tended and guarded the world, molding it, as it was born. Where the darkness was they fought, they beating it. They were giant and huge, big and small. It was before things like size and time were settled, both magic and real. But as with anything that has a beginning and an end, so was it with these.  And as the world finally settled, the immortals went  away. Some say their magic weakened and they could not exist.  Some say they went on out of this universe, to other worlds among the stars. What happened to them I do not know, only that they were gone,” said the old man with a moment of silence. Then he spoke quietly again, in almost a whisper. “They were all gone. All, but two.”

The air was still in the little valley, high up in the mountains. It felt smooth and crisp. Along the floor of the valley, tall pines, grew.  Their thick trunks standing straight. In the center of the stand of trees, lay a small clearing, and under the boughs the great pines knelt a form. He resembled a man though he stood taller than any man. He was cloaked in a dark fur robe. On his hands and arms lay the scars from past battles.  He knelt beside the smoldering coals of a fire.  It was the lonely mountain pass where he rested. It was his wanderings that he called his home. The cool air sent a shiver across his shoulders. The wind blew against the robe, But though it did battle with the fur, it didn’t make it through the thick pelt. He wore a simple robe and tunic of a thick weave. Its simplicity lied of its quality. Around his waist a tooled leather belt with flowing patterns, dancing around his waist.  And on his back the thick black robe, the animal whose sacrificed for its use, could not be placed, but the sheer size told that its didn’t die easy.

The man was simple enough, and if viewed from afar one could easily mistake him for an ordinary man. But his easy movements betrayed his sheer size.

He hovered over the ashes of the fire, their dying coals giving off the last of their light. “It was good enough”, He thought. He was moving on from the quiet valley. His eyes surveyed the clearing. His camp was almost struck. His roll of supplies sat by the base of one of the great pines, near where he picketed his horse.

It was a horse, in the sense of what you and I would call a horse. But in truth It was decedent from the wild animals who became the horse.

He surveyed the mountains, but his mind wasn’t there entirely. It was long ago when he and his compatriots first came to this place. The first had carved out the land, battling the ancient forces that ruled. The battles had been epic. Horse and steed charged into battle, comrade and friend fought together. Arriving in this dark place, they fought the darkness back with sword and spears. Axe and shield sparked against each other, littered the dark sky with their sparks. and though the hot metal gave way each day, they still burned bright in the sky at night. In his mind he could still feel the pounding of the hoof beets. The rumble rippled the earth, tossing up mountains. It stretched and ripped the earth, forming ravines. But like a flash he was back in the lonely valley. It was here that they had won and victories, and where his friends had moved on, but here he remained. The breeze swarmed gently around him. He pulled his robe closed around him. He looked down at the small fire. The last puff of smoke rose, as the fire exhaled its last breath.  Quietly he smothered what remained, and gathered his pack.

He moved back to his old steed the large back horse stood at the shoulder as taller as most men. His long main and tail tossed in the morning. As he his ride drew near. The lone stranger rubbed down the stallion with a handful of green grass.  “Ready to move?” he asked the large beast. The giant animal snorted in short in response to the question. “Me too” he replied, Loading up the pack, he mounted and road on.

The rider followed the lay of the land, with no particular path, just the rises and fallings of the earth. Moving up the ridges of the mountain, drifting like the morning midst. On an open ridge, he stopped and surveying the view around him. The long slopes of the mountain roped down to the green planes.

He could feel her coming before he saw her. Her white horse moving like fresh snow along the mountain. There used to be many of them at one time, but now here we’re the last. Two in the entire world each with their own wanderings, it was not usual for them to cross paths. In fact they had not seen each other for a very long time.

She drew up near to her old friend. Her cape was a dark red embroidered with gold thread On her forearms sat silver bucklers etched with patterns and floral reliefs. The grey varnished hinted at their age.

“It’s been some time she greeted him.” “It has”, he replied. “I come from the planes, from the villages” she spoke. “They are learning fast, making their mark. The old magic fades. The new things are taking over, and trees are growing in the upper meadows.”

“The times have changed,” he replied, “but you have not. always the caretaker. Though It’s not often you come to the mountains” he said.

Here expression turned grim. ”The darkness has come again,” she said.

His eyes didn’t flutter as he heard the news, but inside images of past battles flooded his mind. He knew the vast darkness the work it had taken to defeat it. She spoke as if say in a fact, he knew what she was asking, it was a call to action, to return to battle again.

“I go to the villages and summon the tribe leaders.” She continued. “The earth is no longer ours, she has taken a life of her own, the ways of men are cultivating it, as she grows, he (the darkness) threatens to destroy her.”  She spoke as if stating a fact as if something were already done.”

“Will they listen?” He ask.

“They may, she replied. But men stand no chance alone.”

“Our time here has been done here for some time. If the time of man is now” he stated, “they must defeat this evil This is not our battle he said.”

“Our time is done, she countered, “but yet we remain.  She said with a pause. The chiefs are gathered to meet in two days,” she replied, “it’s different, I do not know how this battle will end, if we cannot stop him…” She said quietly her words fading into silence.

She could see her words had no outward effect on her old friend.  Gone was the energy, of times past, when determination of battle came easy and the high price for victory was eagerly paid.

“If you won’t come with me, then I bid you “Till later”.  She said as she turned her mount down the ridge. “I hope to see you again,” she said. “And if not, then maybe beyond the stars.”  She said in farewell to her companion. Turning her steed, she crossed the mountain spur, down toward the villages of men.

He sat for a moment. This was not his battle, he had paid his dues to this place long before, faced the terrors of the dark. This place no longer belonged to him. Indifferent, he turned his steed, to climb higher up the mountains.

Circling around a peak, he followed the range as it ran north. The young forest thinned, until only a thin grass dusted the high hills. Large peaks broke upward; their black stone standing like dark monuments.

It was long ago when he first arrived here, and the  scars on his body told the tail of his life. And when the last of the battle was done and his friends had left, He had stayed. Why he didn’t know. It was as if in the battles, part of this place had grown deeper inside him. But this place was changing and as a creature from a different time, he rode, almost visitor to the place he had conquered.

On the top of the hills a breeze blew, cool and moist. Mounting a ridge, the hero rode ever northward. He came to a stop on the crest of a ridge. The mountain dropped off in front of him, the wild mountains spread onward. Dark green meadows ran up the mountain slopes. The mountains cut the fabric of the earth with their sharp bladed peaks.

The light sky stretched over and around the hero, tufted only with a few clouds.  He sat on his mount surveying the horizon, the hidden valleys, rolled past the horizon.

The world lay before him, its rugged wildness singing the ancient song. He and the ones before him had heard that tune, written in the world, made of deep magic that never fades. Deep in his heart he heard the melody play its beat, a dance old and new, one that joins the soul, the song that one can only sing without words. He felt the wild dance inside, its tempo slow building in him.

It was then he noticed the dark midst. Far off, like a low hovering cloud, it moved slowly through the valleys. Its polluting darkness, slowly seeped up the low hills. It was moving slowly, but ever moving in a never ceasing torrent.

The darkness moved was like the thunder clouds, but he could see, that like the dark ash clouds of a volcano, they didn’t bring life giving rain, or to clean the earth.  Lightning flashed inside them here and there, but they spread only darkness.

It was then the he felt it, the cool moist breeze that had been at his back change. The shift was slight, but it turned ever so slightly to pushing towards him, and on the darks currents he could smell the stench. Although so far away, and so minute it would be easy to overlook, yet he could smell it, the stench of sulfur and ash.  The song of the earth had gone silent and in his heart he heard no music.  His dark steed stamped restlessly to move from the smell of the dark midst.

Hero’s eyes gazed at the midst but not the look of observation or concern. The corners of his eyes tightened and his jaws set.  His hand reached unconsciously to his roll, to the familiar shape felt through the wrappings.

T’was another fight, a massive foe from times past, but unlike then, there were only two of them.  Two… he thought, and the sons of men.

With a flick of his wrist, he wheeled his mount around moving off the high ridge. The large beast moved a fast trot, heading back across the mountain, to the villages of man.

 

The village of Gur lay in the low foot hills of the mountain, surrounded by rolling greens hills. It was a small collection of low houses on stacked rock bases. They sat nestled beside a small clear river.  In the center of the village, stood a large round house.  Rutted paths cut in and between the little structures.  Outside the town, small pens and  fences held small livestock, and outlined garden plots. A few lean to structures provided shelter for larger live stock.  It was late morning when the young lad saw the large being approach. The small boy was cleaning of one of the animal shelters. But when he saw the strange rider he immediately lost track of his task. The large stranger rode slowly on his large dark horse, coming over the hills like as if pushed by an unseen current.

His horse larger than any he had ever seen, it’s long mane reminded him of the wild creatures from of the dark night time stories. The rider was dressed similar to the lady who had come to the village a day before. The man had a long black skin robe draped around his shoulders, he rode straight and like a chief would ride, but unlike the chiefs, he did not have a procession following him, nor banners or procession. If any of the villagers tried to ride as this man they would have been mocked, but no one spoke as the stranger entered.  He rode straight into the village. The young lad dropped the pitchfork, and chased down a side alley, following the stranger into the village.

Hero walked his mount into the small town, passing by the low houses. Smoke of cooking fires drifted from their chimneys and the sounds of the village punctuated the quiet morning.  The smell of cut earth and farm animals filled the air.  The villagers looked up from their morning routing to study this stranger.

Hero could see the village was small, and the little huts had not seen three cycles of the seasons.  But here and there was evidence of the villagers resolve: A carved lentil over a door, a bouquet of wildflowers, sitting in a window sill.  The village was young, but the ones who made it were planning to stay.

Hero saw the little lad he’d seen outside of the village, standing beside a hut in his dirty clothing.  The young lad peered at him with deep blue eyes.  He dismounted and tied his mount to a post then motioned for the boy to come near.  Loosening the cinch strap on his steed he asked the kid “could you bring him some water?” he asked beckoning to his mount.  The little kid nodded in reply. “He likes oats if you have them,” hero added. The little kid ran off for provisions.

 

Hero watched go for a second then turned and entered the large round house.  The dark smells of a extinguished fires and musty thatch and stone. The large structure was a large single room. A low stone wall held up the roof timbers which met in the middle, forming the circular pavilion. A small hole allowed smoke from the central fire ring to escape.  As he entered the group was already formed, debating with the female hero, the chieftains from villages arguing of what to do.

The chiefs gathered in a circle, their heavy wool robes wrapped around their shoulders. Heads of the clans from far up the valley where they herded sheep, the chieftains of the forest, and the ruddy chieftain whose village mined at the base of the mountain.  In the middle these large men stood the heroine draped in here white fur robe.

“We will move our herds down the valley, leave here, and move south,” said Aedan, a chieftain in the high valleys. “Let whatever lives here have his way.”

“The darkness will not stay in the mountains,” said the heroine. “It will not be contained to this place.”

“Perhaps we should joint this new power,” said the one called Brennen, elder from the base of the mountain.  “We may form a treaty, and stay on our land without a war.”

“He isn’t a king who will demand tribute.” She replied. “He comes to consume, this is the time of war.”

“Who will compensate us for our fight?” asked Seisyll, a lower chieftain. “How will we split the spoils?”

The evidence of fracturing showed in the group, the unease of rulers who days before where competing against each other, now called to bind as a group, despite their fear and distrust.

Hero moved towards the group.

“This darkness does not come for your land or herds.” His words moved like slow thunder across the room. The room fell silent. “He doesn’t care for your herds or crops.  He comes for the light of day, the clean air you breath, the smile of your children. If you wish to make your peace with the darkness then go, but the sun will blot out, and your people will die. He brings the dark power.  And those who fight with him are dark and twisted.

“Then we will leave here and go and somewhere else.” spoke one of the chiefs.

“You can leave but he is ever moving. You could leave to the far off lands, and though you might escape. You leave it to your children or your children’s children to face him.”  There was something in the way this stranger spoke his words didn’t just pierce the ear, but it was as he spoke to the very matter they were made of. The call to fight was not just to them but to the rocks of the building the wood rafters. The call was to the world matter to fight.

“Me and my companions fought the darkness long ago, long before the first,” hero continued. “But now is the time of men. You do not fight for your lands, but for the ground it’s self. Are worthy to stay? Will you pay your tribute to the earth? ”

Hero’s words finished, leaving silence in their place. All was quiet.

“we will fight.”  It was Cadeyrn, The chief of the stone cutters, whose hard axes broke stone and skin was stained by dirt.

“And us too,” Said Elisedd, chief of the lowlands.

“Our men will fight” said Dustan chief of the forest,

The lodge was filled with noise as others joined the fight.

“He will be here tomorrow, hero spoke, “Prepare.” And with this last line he turned and exited the lodge.

The silence was broken by a sudden flurry of movement. Chief and Elder moved fast to rally their troops. Provisions were needed. Battle plans, a mere idea a moment ago, was suddenly brutal reality.

Hero moved out of the building and gathered his steed from the lad.  The quiet village was now transformed into a flurry of action.

“Find your parents,” here staid to the little child.

“I don’t have any, the kid replied. “I live with my aunt.”

“Then go to her,” hero said. “She will be looking for you.”

Hero talked in brief with the heroine, they decided she would remain in the village and help organize the leaders. With preparations beginning, hero rode out of the village, out to a small hill, where the grass was dark and thick. He had a view of the long valley. The village lay roughly centered in the long valley, along a little river. It was here on the hill he dismounted and made his camp.

The air was once again silent. He could feel the little breezes from the mountain. Here he would wait. The late afternoon sun was on its decline, it’s rays broke yellow and gold across the valley.

The little lad moved out of the village towards the hill where he saw the tall warrior go. It was a hefty walk up the steep rise. After his encounter with the stranger, he ran back to his aunt, telling of the events of the morning, and what he overheard inside the roundhouse. At the news his aunt had immediately began preparation. She added wood to the cooking fire and swung a large pot over it, starting a stew for the warriors who would arrive. She added sweet dark flavors of root vegetables and salted seared meat.

She moved in a flurry of movement, setting out food in preparation. She grabbed a little pale, poured in a healthy portion of the stew, added a half loaf of bread, then gave it to the little lad.

“Take this to the stranger,” she said. “We must see he doesn’t go hungry while he is here with us.”

So the little lad gathered the bundle and moved along the little path, exiting the village into the evening night. Slowly he made his way to where the hero had set up his camp.  It was when he was almost at the top, when he saw the hero’s fire. A small affair, he could make out the large form near the flames. The hero did look at the flames, but up at the stars. The large beast of a horse was picketed a few yards away.  The animal raised its head as he approached.

 

The little lad walked towards the fire.  As he neared the large man moved to look at the young lad.

“I brought some food,” the young boy announced himself. “My aunt sent this for you.”

The large form looked at him form a moment, and then waved him to come closer.  The boy approached the fire, and handed the bundle to hero.

“When will it arrive?” The little child asked, budding with curiosity.

“Tomorrow,” Hero said in his deep voice.

“Will we win?” the little lad asked.  The hero paused from eating, and looked at the child.

“Long before you were born, there were many of us, and there were many battles. We fought for the light of this place, for each other, for the joy of the fight. We moved against the dark beings, on the great mountains in the south, one brother, caught the dark monster who ruled those mountains. We were engaged lower down in battle, but he and the evil one, moved higher. The monster backed down into his refuge in the crater of the tallest of those mountains, seeking refuge in the molten heat.  But our comrade didn’t stop, but plunged in after him. Inside of the dark crater, fire and ash erupted as they fought. The ground trembled with their dual. Molten rock and steel rained from the crater, then all was silent. I found the worrier he was just coming out of that pit. His sword glowed red from the heat.  He conquered the monster of that mountain.  We went to congratulate him and celebrate the victory, but he could barely move. his sword seared to his hand. veins of burnt skin and ash ran along his arms and back.”  Hero let the story slide off.   “That battle ended the great foe among these mountains, but also the warrior who fought without fear. It wasn’t long after he left this place.”

Hero looked wishfully at the stars above, then at the small boy.

“The battle can always be won,” he said softly. “The only question is if you are willing to pay the price.”

The little boy knelt close to the fire, warming in its little light, the air was quiet. The fires rustled, and the stars to the east were starting to fade. The dawn approached and the stillness of anticipation grew heavy in the air.  The words echoed inside the child’s mind “Victory is possible, but are you willing to pay the price?”

The light of dawn pierced the valley, moving the long shadows with its streams of light. The little child watched the scene, from the village below smoke rose from the kitchen fires.

The little village was now packed with people, a hub for the engagement to come.  Some of the residents had fled during the night and a few late stragglers were still moving out. But those who had left were replaced by others: the few who had answered the call to battle.  They came in by ones and twos. Here and there a group of five or seven slowly made their way into the town. And though the day before the town only held few score, it now overflowed with occupants.

Large copper pots hung over fires. Balls of dough sat on cooking boards facing the hot flames. The heat rose the bread, then seared the crust.  The fighters came with a ragged mixture of weapons. Here a cudgel, a spear, repurposed axes which the day before were cutting oaks on the hill side, now were instruments of battle, here and there a bronze sword. The chieftains stood ready for the engagement in a mixture of bronze and leather armor.  Directing the men the heroine helped organizing the chieftains. She was changed for battle, she wore a silver breast plate and shin guards. Her white fur robe flowed behind her. At her hip she had a long thin sword, and at her hand a spear.

Though she was larger than the tallest man, she moved among and between them helping here, giving direction and organization. And though her very presence brought one could feel a connection, almost a passage to an unlocked place deep in the world.

The little boy looked over the town, the final preparations were being made and the chiefs readied there troops to move out.  The boy turned to the hero. The large form had moved and smothered out the fire. He locked eyes with the lad, then motioned to the far end of the valley.

“He’s here”.

The little child looked down the long valley towards the mountains, the morning light pushed the darkness of night back to the deep recesses, but in the far end of the valley, the light wavered, faltering against the darkness there. It was then that the child could see the seeping cloud, moving slowly into the valley. A chill went up the child’s spine.

“Come”, said the hero. “We go to higher ground”.

Hero mounted the giant animal, then reached a hand down to the little lad. The lad stood paused for only a moment before grasping the hero’s hand and swung up behind him. The hero turned the steed and cantered up the hills.

They stopped on a high ridge. Dismounting, hero took pack roll, unrolling on the ground. From the pack he took two forearm guards of dark metal and donned them. He removed a few pieces of armor for the wild steed, mounting as he removed them from the pack.

Then from deep in the roll he took one last piece: a sword. The lad starred at the old instrument, the metal radiated the morning light, and it was a long plain blade that shone like silver in the morning light. A leather grip wrapped the handle, and it bore only a simple guard. It bore the markings of an experienced tool.  It had been a long time since it was necessary to use, but it was carefully kept.  Hero removed the instrument. He balanced it in his hand, like one catching up with an old friend.

The mist was prevalent in the valley now, and with it, it’s stench.  The boy could see it building up as a wall as it poured in, but as the child turned to the hero he thought he felt light movement of air from the hero, a little breeze, fresh and cool.  Hero unclipped his heavy thick black animal robe, and laid it down on the ground next to the pack.  The steed pawed at the grass in anticipation, ready again for the fight. Hero caught up the steed, and mounted.

“Stay here.” Hero spoke to the little child. “You will be safe here.”

The little lad nodded in response. Hero turned towards the darkness, and started down the hill. Bellow the men formed up in the bottom of the valley, abreast the darkness. The one’s who answered the call gathered in now a large forces, they were dressed in all manner of uniform but stood as one long line, a bulwark against the midst.  It was more men than the you boy had ever seen before. The chieftains mounted on their horses stood out in front with the heroine. The child could see the mist darkening, gathering here, and spreading there. Down the hill towards the force hero road, moving at a slow trot, but gathering speed, down towards the engagement.  The line of forces drew up and paused.

From inside the midst came strange sounds and movements. Normal wild creatures changed by the darkness turned to monstrous forms.

For a moment it all was still, then the charge.

With a shout, the men moved forward, and with a roar of the demented monsters charged out at the men.

It was a collision of fang and spear, sword and claw. The chieftains led the charged on their mounts into the chaos of the battle.  The pounding of hoof beats and sickening sound of breaking bone filled the air. Screams of man and animal, shouts and battle cries echoed across the line, in and in they charged meeting the dark screams of the beasts.

From her mount the heroine moved back and forth in the battle line on her white steed, crossing in and out of the mist.  Transformed she moved in a fuse of light. Her lance flickering between the monstrous beasts, stained red with their blood.

The little child saw the battle unfolding, the initial charge had met the beast, and the battle raged in the center of the valley.  It was wild and crazy. He couldn’t tell who was winning. The men fought valiantly but the terrible things, monsters from a nightmare, kept coming from the dark.

The little child had lost sight of hero, but then he saw him. He was crossing the valley towards the battle line, the large horse animal moving at a full gallop. Hero rode tall in the saddle toward the darkness, sword in his hand. Even at a distance he thought he could feel the hoof beats of the steed as it charged.  They moved together as one. They reached the battle line charge through the chaos, into the midst and disappeared.

Hero could feel the darkness closed in around him. The acidic smoke burned his lungs, gritty hot ash scratched at his skin.  He charged into the darkness through the torrents of hot wind that pushed at him. He moved towards their source. It was there he found the dark being. The dark one stood in form of a hideous man, the swirling soot outlined him.  As he caught glimpse of the hero he began to laugh.

“Is this all that is left? There were many of you once and this is all that remains?” He said in dark mirth.

Hero did not answer but simply charged. The dark one formed a sharp cudgel out of the torrent of ash that swirled around him. In the darkness of the storm, hero’s sword radiated the little light that penetrated the midst; the strobeing reflections cast the hero and dark being on in sharp relief.  Hero swung as he charged, and the dark one swung also to meet him. The collision of the two immortals broke like thunder in the darkness.

From the battle line where the chiefs and the heroine fought they could hear the booming inside the darkness. The demented beast tore through their battle line in volley after volley. Slowly the men were beaten back, until they were backed the side of the valley all the way to the tree line. The men fought in desperation, blow by blow, step by step, beast against man, they fought in increments of breaths. Those warriors who had lost their weapons in the fray, tore clubs from the trees.  The heroine moved back and forth like a warm melody among the men. Fast in movement, her lance and sword cut like razors  on the charging beasts.

From inside the cloud hero circled the dark one, he kept his distance, for what the dark ones touch polluted and soiled.  In he charged, swinging and slashing then moving back out.  Hot sweat mixed with the dark ash and burnt his skin.  The nauseating smell filled his mouth and lungs. Heroes’ blade met his mark, cutting the darkness, but his own body showed wounds. Each blow that reached his mark came at a cost.

Pulling ash and matted to himself, the dark one grew, turning almost into part man, part dragon, part monster. Up and up it rose height. Hero moved to match the dark, he and his steed moving up the mountains.  Foot falls shook the earth as he and the dark circled in fight.

From the low rise where the little boy stood he could see the two the battle lines bellow the clash of men, and looming above, the dark mist like a great cloud swirled an billow. The two great forms split the midst, rising above the clouds hero mounted on his wild steed and the hideous form of a monster. Lightning flashed from cloud to cloud, as the giant forms battled.

He could see the hero sword flashing cutting here and there and the darkness.  The thunderous roar of the dark being echoed across the mountains.  Feet of the hero and dark one cut through the ridges, breaking the mountain ranges as they fought. The heat from the monster seared the top of the mountains black.   While the rest of the men were busy fighting in the valley, the two immortals fought among the mountains, transformed   into full size.

Further back into the mountains, the hero pushed the beast, striking it with blows . In a final act of desperation, the creature lunged and wrapped around the hero trying to break him. The putrid scent burned hero’s lungs the rough scales of flesh, cut like sharp pieces of obsidian. The dark being tighten to crush the hero.

In and out, hero cut with his blade, each time deeper and deeper.  Until at last the beast started to weaken, then fell off.  The bright sword flicked one final time.  And the beast dropped down across a ridge.

Slowly it became quiet, the loud roar of battle started to fade.  Back in the valley, the chieftains had rallied their men against the monsters. Pushing back the beast until they had destroyed all of them, except for a few, who fled snarling into the deep recess of the mountains.

The men gathered their injured and headed back to the village. One of the chieftains went to seek advice from the heroine but he couldn’t find her. The battle had been won, but the cost was high. Many fell before the monsters. The floor of the little valley was torn with deep cuts from the battle. And the stench of the mist was still in the still air.

It was in a valley far in the mountains where heroine found the hero.  He was dismounted; his tired steed grazed on a patch of thin grass, its coat was soaked with sweat from the battle.  As she moved towards the hero, she could see him he was sitting, but it wasn’t until as she got closer that she could see wounds from the battle. His skin was stained dark, burns and cuts cover this arms and face. Ash and sweat caked his hair.   His breath came labored and hard.

Beside him lay the sword still gleaming from the engagement, white hot from the friction of dust and speed.

“Another battle done,” hero said in a low quiet voice. “Should we celebrate?” He asked almost mockingly.   “Do we rejoice in this destruction?”  He said in to silence.  “have we paid enough homage to this place?” he said motioning to the dark high hills. “I can still smell his stench. Is this victory?” he asked, but the heroine did not reply.

 

Hero laboriously rose. His steps crunched on the thick coat of ash that covered the ground.  The heroine looked on. It seemed as if his magic was played out. The little quiet harmony that had come from him was silent. Hero tiredly mounted the stead and slowly turned away.  The heroine watch him go, disappearing in the fog that had begun settle on the mountain. For a long moment she stayed there, before moving her mount to cross back towards the village of men.  As she topped the last ridge to the valley, She paused for a moment looking over the scarred little valley.  The chiefs had returned to the village and a feast was being held. She could see the light in windows where the wounded lay tended, waiting for healing to come. The sound of song and music came from the village, as newly written victory poems, repeated the gallant action of the day, when men had concurred the last of the darkness that ruled the world.

From her mount she could see the wild mountains stained black by the darkness.

The heroine paused for a moment then sang her own victory song.

“Rise up hero, who rides the wild way.  May the mountains sing the name of who broke them with his feet.  Sing winds of the one wears the cuts of his enemy.  Each wound he carries, he kept them from those he did not know. Sing hills the tune his sword made as it cut the dark one. Rise up o’ victor! The earth breaths in thanks. Victory is yours, for you have won!”

Her words danced thought the air, caught by a mountain, and echoed on……

The old man, paused his story for a moment. The fire was now a low pile of coals. He sat quiet in the stillness of the night.

“We never saw the Hero again. Some say he died from his wounds. Others say left for beyond the stars, to join his fellow immortals.  But some say he still rides the mountains, in the deep places among the hills, tending the high meadows and seeking out the dark creatures that hide there.”

“But if you go up the mountains and listen carefully, children. You can hear his tune on the fresh new breezes of the mountains, as they sing the tale of the one who stopped the last darkness, the last of the great immortals, who lived here long ago.”

The fire dimmed as the old man finished his story, and sat in silence. His mind filled with images far away, his deep blue eyes lost in thought. Slowly the children got up one by one, and made their way back to their homes. Called by the late hour, and the warmth of their beds.

But the old man stayed high on the on the shelf of the mountain, draped by a tattered dark animal robe whose origin no one knew.  From the mountain a light cool wind blew and over head the stars danced.

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