Wars of the aoten, p.1
Wars of the Aoten
By Craig Davis
23 Castlerock Cv. Jackson TN 38305
Copyright © 2006 Harry Craig Davis
Davis, Craig, Wars of the Aoten
Wars of the Aoten
By Craig Davis
Artur could see nothing but the snapping fangs and roiling tongue. Claws dug deeply into his flesh, tearing great shreds even through his tough tunic. With his left arm bearing up all the beast’s weight, he could do no more than fumble blindly with his right hand. Surely Kylie lay somewhere close by; for now, Artur could offer back only his own gnashing teeth. A flailing fury of activity and spittle buffeted his face, and none of his companions could provide any aid. Once again, Artur stood alone.
“What has brought me to this?” he wondered. “And to what end? How much striving must I spend to simply gain a future? Mog’s goblins!”
The damp thump of a dew drop hit his helmet. He’d slept again under the canopy of leaves.
The tribes of Medialia had lived together peaceably, within reason, for generations. And what generations! The years of the people advanced into decades, then to scores and perhaps then on into centuries as lifetimes went from birth to Earth to eternity.
The land and its animals and plants had been husbanded for years upon years by a long procession of worn and calloused hands. The peoples of Medialia built their cultures with equal attention, preserving their traditions and distinctions with meticulous care. Tens of thousands of cycles of dawn to dusk then dawn again left the ancient peoples performing lives of unquestioned ritual, not knowing why and not caring; it just was. Anything different would be a threat to the continuity of life, and untrustworthy, and sacrilege. The Rufoux, the Bedoua, each in its own land; the Melics of the trees, and the Raspars hidden away in their city; even the Koinoni — they all staked out their part in the world. To maintain the purity of the culture, each clan expected its men and women to fulfill their roles, to serve the clan as a whole, to defend it against anything unusual or unknown. If a man were to break himself away from his customs, his clan quickly disowned him, ostracized and banished to find his survival on his own. Only a few such pariahs had stained Medialia’s history, living or perhaps dying in exile; even now there was believed to be one, a lunatic camped high in the mountains, rumored to talk to animals. In isolation he toiled away, unknown to anyone but the skies. Or perhaps not; regardless, he lived as a cautionary tale: To invite the influence of another clan or strange ideas would be no better than opening the gate to the thylak, or worse yet, the deviltooth. So each clan drew its defenses, each culture folded in upon itself, in a self-assured attempt to maintain the familiar safety of tradition. Allow the others to exist, yes, but at a distance — only as they remained at a safe distance.
Even as the people threw down their vague borders, the rivers Alluvia and Gravidas embraced Medialia within a firm but tender grasp, and deep, beautiful pools of mirrored water, fed by underground springs, dotted the land. To look directly into their gentle, hypnotic folds, a man of Medialia would see first himself and the clear sky above reflected in the glassy surface, then beyond to the crystalline shallows, then the deep blue of the dense, pure solution, and finally into the blackest mystery of its very depths. Fish and eels, newts and mollusks — even a fleeting glimpse of the dreaded scaled draughgon — all found a place of sanctuary and sustenance in the rich womb of mother water. Her loving touch spread throughout the land, even to the edge of the sandy desert in the north, and life flourished within her reach.
The land rose up round about in grand rock formations and proud stands of trees, thick and distinguished, waiting like wizened men advanced in years yet always ready for brisk walk and conversation. Great giants towered over the landscape in perpetual greenery, for even what we would call the deciduous strains never lost their leaves to cold weather and dim light. Grand oaks and hickory stood tall, dogwood and birch, cottonseed and cypress, cherry and persimmon, gopherwood and maple, sittlebark and scrattum, ketchipa and peah — the black dirt gave rise to more varieties than could be named in any book. Like locks of twisting hair, mossy strands hung limply from the branches, teasing the undergrowth: Moss dripped from the trees, and dew dripped from the moss. These elegant titans relented only occasionally as the forested glades gave way first to the mossy undergrowth and then to gentle meadows of waving grasses and dancing flowers. Exotic, kaleidoscopic colors bloomed beyond dictionaries or palettes. Colors existed in Medialia that we have no English word for, and indeed some of the leaves and flowers across the land appeared to be two colors at once. A blink could reveal a whole new perspective on the beauty of a petal, as a kind of crimson/gold/jade might transform into a violet/bronze/burgundy. The soil brought forth fruits and berries, roots and vegetables in abundance, enough for all the living beings that tramped the ground or soared the air.
To this world Artur of the Rufoux opened his eyes this and every morning.
The times of the Rufoux arched backward to the dawn of tools, when mankind first learned to till the ground and fill their stomachs by the sweat of the brow. The Rufoux ancients mastered the toil most basic to civilization: bronze working, kiln-firing, blacksmithing. Anything that required heat and brute strength suited their bodies and character well.
A squat, powerful people, they took their name from the ruddy complexion that in turn gave witness to their fiery trades and temperaments. Most grew to no more than seven kronyn tall, about five and a half of our feet, but the men boasted massive shoulders and chests. Their midsections were solid and legs stout, with hands immensely large. In their idle time a man might grasp another’s head by one hand and try to lift him off the ground. A wild shock of golden or red hair topped their crowns, adding a bright accent to their dark skin and demeanor.
Born of fire and violent work, the Rufoux had become an aggressive people. In ages past they learned to go about always in armor of thick, tough leather, and so it became their customary attire. As metal workers, they had also become expert in weaponry, agile in wielding swords and pikes, maces and axes with great abandon. Indeed, it seemed the only joy they took came from their games, at which they would lay upon each other with tremendous gusto, somewhat disappointed to use only blunted weapons.
So let no surprise regale you that the legends of their god, Mog, celebrated him strong and warlike as well. Mog had been a man once, so they said, and fought great battles against monstrous, mystical creatures that directed the fates of the people of Medialia. From Mog, too, the Rufoux had come to tame fire, for use in the forge and the oven, to bake his gift of bread born of their great fields of grain. The Rufoux came to him with sacrifice whenever they went into battle, small or large, seeking to allay his wrath, to gain his blessing, that he might increase their aggression and add to them his mighty victory.
Artur could not claim to be the greatest of the Rufoux, not the tallest, nor strongest, nor smartest. But perhaps he could boast as most typical. And he was clever and an accomplished story-teller; this very talent led to his appointment as chieftain.
He was Artur, son of Geoffrey. In spite of his audacity and headstrong ways, he displayed a spirit of self-denial and duty to his people. This selflessness showed itself in the daring and reckless manner he threw himself into battle. His hair unruly — redder than most and cut as if a bowl had been placed over his head — but balding in back, betrayed his encroaching triple digits. He spoke in short blasts, his talk filled with bluster and sometimes spittle. When in conversation his arms often waved wildly about his head, sometimes as he made a point. Sometimes, notably when he
Not only swords, but also plowshares came from Rufoux smelting. The clan had established its village on a high bluff near the floodplains of the River Alluvia. A slight rise in the land separated the huts from the fields — a crest lined with stacks of heavy wood stored for use in building and fire-making, as well as frames for drying and tanning leather — before steeply declining toward the floodplains. The beneficent river overflowed its banks regularly, its water standing over the fields for upwards of a month, leaving rich, pungent soil to nourish their crops. In fact, the Rufoux enjoyed the most hale and hearty health of all the clans, and they guarded their farmlands vigorously. An unusually ingenious man of the clan years before invented a plow with removable handles — a quick yank, and the sharp blades of short rapiers emerged from scabbards within the frame. Thus did they become farmer-warriors.
Although small, they had become excellent riders. The sight of a stumpy Rufoux man ridiculously astride a huge hippus might put an observer into hysterics — until the rider stood upon the beast’s back at full gallop, hung from its neck, jumped from side to side and ended by deftly pulling the animal to a sudden stop, blowing great bursts of steamy breath into the awe-struck face of the scoffer.
The clanspeople pursued other activities, not only work and warfare, with equal enthusiasm. Betrothed and married at a young age, Rufoux couples tended to have great numbers of children, bustling about the house banging metal spoons against metal pans in mock battle. Rufoux women were stocky like the men and shorter still, with shapely hips given to easy childbearing. They tended homes made of wooden frames, poles bent into semicircles, with animal skins stretched over the top, leaving an opening in the center of the roof. Directly underneath a fire blazed, always at the center of Rufoux life. Pallets for sleeping lined the floor along the walls of the dwelling; as a family grew, new circles of pallets would be added until no walking room existed between the sleeping area and the fire, lost to the bustle of confined concord. In this way alone Artur divided himself from his people.
Though the leader of the clan, though a willing joiner of talk, Artur often sought out solitude. A melancholy mantle draped his thoughts at such moments. He alone of the Rufoux men remained a bachelor, a point of constant sorrow and dismay for him. Never lonely, yet he knew himself to be utterly alone, a miserable weight he felt often upon his head. In the evenings, when families lulled their children to sleep, Artur crept into the dark of the wood, separate from all activity except his swirling thoughts. The Rufoux customs betrothed couples at age six, formally engaged at twelve and married at eighteen. Artur’s parents had dutifully arranged for him a child bride, and the ceremony of their betrothal also had been the day Geoffrey gave him his first breastplate of ceremonial armor. That day’s glorious celebrations were forever etched into Artur’s memory. Then an accident, a terrible sequence of events before Artur’s eyes, took the life of his intended and threw it as far away as the wind blows. At that moment he began to take no regard for himself, but instead abandoned safe discretion in favor of thrill and the well-being of his clan. He gave up hope for wife and children of his own, and took all the Rufoux as his family.
So Artur masked his darkness with intensity and bravado. It is not so uncommon even in our own world.
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