10. A City on the Fulgren Sea

The moon was pale and the stars were gone. He had slept and it was almost dawn. At last the shuffle of tired feet sounded more closely in his ears as they now marched on a road, stone and all, raised above the devil grass to the height of a tall man. Ahead he could see the shimmer of white walls in the wet morning heat. The challenge of a guard, the sounds of people living busy lives, shadows of buildings and the mocking laughter of children. Short buildings with rich cloth hanging from every window and streaming between houses to form a squat, shaded corridor for thew procession to march under. A tall man could reach up and touch the patterns on the silken roof as no building stood higher than two men. Hormud grinned his sour approval, this was why no one talked of a city on the Fulgren Sea.
The paved street ended and his captor’s boots lifted clouds of dust that tasted of cattle as the houses were left behind. They passed through another walled gate and Hormud was in a city of tents. Skins of animals formed roofs and walls, hides of horses and wolfs, and there was one larger than the rest and it was covered with the rich furs of the black fox.
Before this tent, just as the sky turned rose with morning, the red men carrying him staggered to a halt, hefting the lance carrying him onto the forks of two upright posts where he continued to dangle limply while the tent city woke up. Their women and children came out to poke and gawk at this strange new visitor while the sun brightened until it was a brassy sword that pierced his very brain. But Hormud clamped his broken lips beneath his beard and spoke no word to these new people. As hours passed through his pain and weariness the world swirled into unreality.
Only the jerk of his tortured limbs told him he was moving again, and he called fiercely on the reserves of his dwindling strength for he knew that the end of his travails was near and that another, sharper test lay ahead. He forced up his throbbing head and saw that the arched gate through which he travelled bore human gargoyles, with the severed torsos and heads of these red warriors tightly forced into stone alcoves to give the illusion of having the limbs of bears rearing in defiance or salute, though their slack faces and sagging flesh didn’t seem triumphant. Above them, arrayed along the wall in such a way that he had assumed them to be ornate crenellations, stood small men no taller than a boy, looking at him incuriously.
Soon there were more of these small men, as they passed through a bazaar where vendors shrieked from booths of brass and silk, forcing their goods under the noses of passing men and women, uniformly with long free hair and dressed in the most extraordinary colours Hormud had seen since leaving the arenas and seraglios of the Empire. Their children pelted Hormud with fruit payed for by smiling parents, the sharp husks of the peculiar fruits left him bloodied and bruised until the soldiers absently shooed them away.
The crooked streets of the market gave way to a broad avenue, where cedar and larch threw pools of shadow on ranks of stone statues whose pediments bore the graven figure of a bear standing as a man, not triumphant as the gargoyles before, but waiting. Among these they came to the steps of a pillared palace whose low facade stretched off further than Hormud’s limited view in each direction. The men who bore him fell down on their knees to shuffle up the steps. Hormud felt the hot marble scrape the skin from his back and he knew they approached the ruler of these people, and he laughed, though it could barely be recognised as one.
“Thank you friends. It is a rest for my ankles.”


Very relevant:


You'll notice Sons of the Bear God rests firmly in the Clonan area of heroic fantasy. Hopefully we can pull it out and make it something more interesting, but no promises. As it stands it's becoming obvious that this will require quite a deep re-writing, so I'll be considering all of this a cursory first draft, tidying up language and eliminating crappy elements from the story. Draft #2 will a fundamental attack at the core of the story to make it something more than a romp.

Wish me luck.

9. The Quiet Blackness

After some time in the quiet blackness Hormud swam back to a consciousness broken by torchlight in a swaying night. He could hear the thunk and crash of marching, armoured feet and felt his body sway with the rhythm, yet he was not marching. His wrists and ankles had been bound together and between them had been thrust a lance so that he hung limply like a stuck pig. He lifted his dangling head and saw a litter carried on the shoulders of red haired men, the only thing paying him any heed was the grinning face of Ostromo, above their heads as he was, being carried in state like an emperor. Life still pounded strongly though his veins so that he wrenched savagely at his bonds, causing the men carrying him to stagger and slow their stride. One turned a pleading face, pale in the red glare of torches, and from the darkness strode another, striking him in the teeth with the hilt of his dagger. He spat blood and put his gaze on the man, framed by a leopard helmet as if eating his head.
“I’ll remember you when I form my legions. You will serve me as my concubine and dance for the soldiers when I get tired of your fumbling embrace.”
This time he struck across his cheek, he felt the crack of bone. The man muttered and turned back into the darkness to leave Hormud, and alone he allowed his head to sag, and his hair to drag through the mud in matted tails. The familiar clank and thud of a marching army beat into his ears, he sucked in the sweet smells of sweat and campfires, fighting unconsciousness as he travelled. Most often he would wake with his head sagged backward so that his inverted gaze rested unwaveringly on the silks that hung from Ostromo. Ho Hormud, where are your legions of gold?


The further into the work I get the further I need to range ahead as my changes have deeper and deeper repercussions. Simple things like changing the timing of events so they actually make sense now change things quite a way ahead, slowing down the whole process. It's getting to a point where I need to seriously consider how much I am willing to change the work to make it good/less bad as things start to get tempting to change in quite profound ways. For now I will stick to my original intent of re-working this novel to bring out the good in it and see how that goes.

8. Where is the wizard?

He took long slow strides forward, bounding from tuft to tuft into the metallic whispering of the reeds, avoiding where the earth opened its wet mouth to drag back his feet. As they travelled the fog lifted leaving a black sheen to his bare skin that shone iridescent in the returning sunlight. Ostromo scuttled close at his side, moving like a deranged crab.
“There is only death ahead. The Fulgren Sea stretches to the edge of the world and is filled with unspeakable monsters ready to topple the unwary off into the aether. The Heaven Bear lies in wait to devour us. There is only death, even if we escape the demon grass.”
Hormud spat from dry lips, “In Om they told me the edge of the world was beyond Krakorum, in Krakorum they said beyond Phin, and in Phin they said the great sea beyond Yelo poured into a cavern beneath the earth. Beyond this sea of grass we will find people who will say the edge is yet further.”
They walked in silence for what he hoped was miles but with no landmarks it was impossible to tell. With the pain filling his mind it was becoming difficult to be sure if they were even keeping a straight course.
Upon finding a partially submerged boulder, large enough to allow him to sit and see above the grass, he concluded he would stop and attend to his wound, rest, and think a while.

Movement, there is movement everywhere. He strains his eyes at the thin green walls. Reeds behind reeds and between reeds, little corridors that inch off just when the eye is beginning to reach. From a thick clump a patch of fog creeps. The rot in his side spreads quickly in this fetid swamp, the gobi powder doesn’t help any more, take it by the fistfuls, just numbs the mouth. The wizard, where is the wizard? More fog, tendrils filtering through the grass in fingers curling against the ground and up to reach for him. The wizard calmly walks past and into their hands. For a moment they are confused, as if consulting each other on this new creature, touching each other and him gently, tentatively, and then they grab him. Twisting around him like snakes, squeezing and thrashing as a wail erupts from the grass behind them, dragging the thrashing form off faster than Hormud can see. He can’t shout or he would, he would cough but he can’t. Flicking the sheath off the sword into the mud he dived from his rock hacked at the grass until covered in it’s green juices. The grass twists and grabs as he rushes through to follow the fog, twisting in his arms and hair, thicker and thicker, slowing him down intolerably. There are shouts behind him as he runs, but they are given no heed. This is no madness, no thoughtless fury, they have arms so they must have bodies.
Ahead is a clearing two men might lay side by side and think. The white peak of a horesman’s cap is plain through the grass. Bursting through the verge of the clearing he sees, sitting cross legged on the small mound, an Onjen head turned back, eyes popping, the grass all about creating a collar for him, twisted around his neck from outside the clearing to make a flared disk of reeds. The rider looks unsurprised. He cuts him free and the grass falls to form a dress for the sitting man. Now clear, a second figure is obvious. Ostromo is wrapped in the skin of a tiger and stares up at the panting warrior.
“The wind devils have told you secret things. Do they tell you where to find safety?”
“At the edge of the world.”
“And there will be wealth at the end of the world?”
“You shall win three kingdoms and before you shall march ten generals of gold and behind each shall follow ten thousand horsemen and a hundred thousand men. Your name will outlive a hundred hundred years.”
“I am more interested in tomorrow.”
The little wizard pulls the skin tightly around him, hiding him, laughing as he disapears until all that’s left if a shacking tiger, cackling with prophecy.
“You keep something from me Ostormo. You saw more than that.”
His head, balder and older than it ever was, is dripping and wet.
“Why yes you empty headed goat herder,” with great effort he gets to his feet, letting the tiger skin hang like a robe, “I keep something back.”
He falls backwards through the reeds as a call comes up as from an arena crowd, aye aye, grass devils, here is the man you seek.
He grasps at their treachery but the arms are already around him.

7. Dust

Skeletal knuckles whitened griping the dagger, shaking with anger.
“Do it or don’t. We haven’t the time for your indecision.”
“Ong values our choices, and I wouldn’t choose you if you were the last chattel in Turgohl. Your filthy barbarian blood flows thin and cheaply.”
The knife had disappeared among the folds of his robes and he moved to return to his chanting.
“Gods. I need more than one, and they make offerings to me.”
Hormud had brought out his pouch and, sprinkling its contents into his mouth, set his head back against the soft earth breathing deep and contentedly.
“Other wizards fight my spells. I can smell it in the air.”
“It’s you own goat-stink,” Hormud mumbled, staring vacantly at the sky.
As he spoke, darkness gathered above the tops of the grass, pressing down on their heads like a dry, black fog
“Flee Onjen! Flee from the spirits of the devil grass, flee before the Great Bear of Heavan devours you.” Still staring where the sky once was, Hormud could hear the little splashes as the wizard jumped about in delight at his success. He swore and felt around for his sword, finding it he used it to force himself to his feet. The dust had reduced the pain, leaving only a faint tearing sensation in his side. A high wail came from the distant shore where the Onjen waited, soon followed by the hard, fast pounding of hooves dwindling into the distance and back to the Black Sands. Ostromo giggled in the new darkness.
“I could slit your belly now, you hulk.” He whispered. “Mock my spells will you?”
“Lift this damned fog before the grass devils come up on us unaware.”
“No, my magic is too strong to be dismissed so quickly. Let us just leave and return to the friendly hills. The Onjen won’t return, the Heaven Bear chases them to your Queen’s door. I don’t like this grass, I can smell demons.”
“I have smelt better smells but there are no friendly hills for us. The Onjen will return, the Bitch of Turghol will send her sword-bladed lances to find us and give us to the Priests Gigantic. So it is forward, little Ostromo, before my wounds stiffen and rot my bones.”
The sorcerer made a sound like a sick dog.