Priests of Mithras

3 September, 2011 at 18:50 (Flash, Lace and Steel) (, , , , , , , )

He basked in their adulation. The roar of the crowds had him throw up his hands and raise the bloodied daggers far above his head. Droplets of the beast’s blood blessed his face and hair as they fell from the blades.

Soon the crowd would return to their seats, soon the curates and the neophytes would come and take the bull’s carcass to the sacred chapel for butchering but right now he stood, proud, basking in his glory as a Priest of Mithras, fresh from his first fight.

Sunday mornings in the bullring were what he had built his whole life towards, ever since that first initiation as a boy into the first mystery, as the bull’s blood had rained down upon him he had known he wanted nothing more than to be the one in the ring, fighting the bull with wits and daggers, he wanted to see behind the curtain and to know who truly moved the stars with his heart-beat. And he had done it. He basked in the crowd’s adulation.

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Sebastian of Portugal

23 August, 2011 at 21:12 (Lace and Steel, Short) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

It was a cold January when the king of Portugal was born and almost immediately he had entered the world the serving maid Belle, noblewoman of Aragon and satyr to boot, had him off in her arms to present to Maldonado. Of Queen Joan’s actions on that day nothing more is said but Maldonado, the half-horse astrologer made the prophesy that he is famous for and that did indeed come to pass.

Desired shall be the King and many mistresses will he take,
Though he human be he’ll fight for satyrs sake.
At Alcazar he will be turned, and flee within a rout,
By the eternal gates, his life and all of Portugal be turned about.

Brought up as he was by the two Mithraic priests his grandmother commanded never to leave his side Sebastian through himself into the fleshy pursuits at a young age. His conquests before the age of eighteen are legendary throughout Europe, such was his legend (fit to equal that of Casanova) bastards born still in Portugal are called ‘Sebastian’s Children’.
But as his proposals of marriage were turned down by the House of Valois and even the Hapsburgs, that curious intermarried political alliance of satyr and harpy, legends of Sebastian’s promiscuity lessened and that of his misogyny grew.

When he ascended to the throne women were no longer seen at court, soon throughout Portugal it was unheard of for a woman of decent social standing to walk along a street without a male escort. Though women were not seen at court Sebastian’s mistress, Rosinne Menezes would invite the ladies of the gentlemen of court to the upper rooms to which women were consigned without gentlemen escorts. These ladies would play whist and various other games until Sebastian’s law that forbade women to take part in card games. After that they danced, but he forbade that as well.

It was on the eve of his fateful war in Morocco that he declared women should wear no other colour than black, and, in a rare public appearance, Rosinne appeared by his side dressed as it’s now customary for Poruguese women to appear. That is to say, in the high combed cap with it’s trail of velvet and lace, not a hair in sight and with an unheard of high-necked collar, the golden symbol of Mithras at her throat, her figure swamped by the gathered sleeves and skirt.

Sebastian fought with mercanaries of every stripe and hew but the size of the satyr force within his army was unheard of, most were of the Germanic states and the Hanse lands. On the field of Alcazar, where he suffered his most epic defeat at the hands of the Moroccan King, Abd Al-Malik, his legend was made for his defense of the satyr general, Le Camoëns.

He stood, alone upon the field, this noble satyr,
Sebastian turned to face his general and his friend,
Across the field of war they stood, and the Moors held back,
Then with one shout that Royal Traitor Abd Al-Malik,
Commanded his trolls onwards where Le Camoëns stood.

It is said that Sebastian single-handedly fought off the thousand trolls Al-Malik sent against him as he retreated with the injured general. What is known is that Sebastian was in the last boat to leave the Morrocan shore and that the soldier and poet, Le Camoëns was with him. It is also known that when Sebastien and his general reached Lisbon they had already partaken of that curious water which has granted Portugal it’s strange magic. For Sebastian reigns in Portugal still, Rosinne Menezes his Queen and the shadowy satyr, Le Camoëns his advisor. Fashions and laws in Portugal have not changed for a hundred years and it is known as death to innovation and invention for all that it jealously guards it’s fountain of youth.

Sebastian, they say, was struck from behind with a spear by one of the Morrocan trolls. They say that both he and his satyr general should have died before they made Lisbon but that Sebastian’s Mithraic advisors ordered the boat make landfall at some secret cove. Portugal guards it’s borders assiduously these days and ware any, pirates or persons of nobility who make landfall on Portugal’s coastline.

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The Merfolk

20 August, 2011 at 11:14 (Lace and Steel, Short) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Off the Aquitainian coast are the waters which, a thousand years ago or more, one could cross to the gleaming citadels of Atlantis. Now, though, Atlantis is long gone, carried away by it’s overweaning arrogance and confidence in it’s polished, whirring technology and it’s fairy-bloodline of Kings. Now the ocean of the Atlantic is a deep blue-green and peaceful save for the song of whales and the ripples of the deep sea kraken.

It is, mostly peaceful, though if one were to dive below it’s surface, a little way from the coast one might hear the calm blue punctuated by the high-pitched tones of the merfolk, speaking and singing, each to each. If one were very lucky then one might catch a glimpse of brightly coloured scales, someway off in the distance, for these merfolk of the Aquitainian coast are not as friendly as those of the Breton coast, nor as warlike as those who claim the North Sea (with whom the half-horses have some sort of treaty). These merfolk are secretive, sometimes shy and sometimes not by turns.

There are tales that fifty or sixty years ago there was a merman, so captivated by the beauty of the Aquitainian Queen, that he wished to impress her in the way of Aquitainian men. So he had peasants construct a glass case, which he filled entirely with sea-water and then they carried him through the countryside singing. No-one had ever heard such beautiful songs, he sang both the ballads of the Aquitainian bards and also the traditional songs of his people. When he came to Toulouse the Queen leaned from he tower window to hear him and, upon catching sight of his purple scales and manly upper body she fell in love with him.

At that time the Queen had a husband, but it is the tradition of Aquitainian Queens to take lovers, so she took this merman as her lover in secret and kept him close at the court in Toulouse. There she had her dalliance and the merman bard frequently sang at the court and composed many ballads in honour of his queen.
The secrets of the Queens of Aquitaine have no power when it comes to the magic of the children of the sea and so soon the Aquitainian Queen was pregnant and bore a child as no Queen of Aquitaine does when they have a lover. But bear a child she did and this child could walk upon legs despite it’s fish-tailed father.

The rumours around court at the time were that the Queen and her consort argued day and night but that she had persuaded him to accept the child as her heir. However, on the day before the Queen presented her child to court, a party of horsemen rode to the castle and presented themselves to the Queen in her private chambers. All in black they were dressed and carried swords, hanging by their sides, larger than any had ever seen and of a burnished metal the like of which the finest swordsmith in Aquitaine had never seen. It is said that they were Frenchmen, and none know what passed between them and the Queen but they rode from Toulouse in the night, back to Paris or wherever it was they had ridden from. They carried with them a small bundle, one that they had claimed by an ancient right from the Queen and on the next day no heir was presented to the Aquitainian court and the merman bard was seen no more.

It is said he returned in sorrow to the great Atlantic Ocean and that this is the reason why the merfolk of the Aquitainian coast are rarely seen. So, if you are lucky you may hear the tones of their song as you dip your head beneath the waters. When you pull your head up it is likely that the salt water running down your face will be comprised of tears as well as the ocean. For the songs of the merfolk off the coast of Aquitaine are always sad ones since the bard left his Queen in Toulouse.

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18 August, 2011 at 21:33 (Flash, Lace and Steel) (, , , , , , )

The thing I’ve always loved about the sky is it’s lightness. Even when it’s crossed with clouds it’s so bright and when it rains the ripples it sends across the world are like nothing else, so tiny, so perfectly there.

I have often wished that I could enter the sky, exist somehow within it’s airy lightness, but I am aware of my heaviness and the needs of my lungs.

I shall remain here, in the dark-water, watching the sky.

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Proving Ground

13 August, 2011 at 18:31 (Lace and Steel, Short) (, , , , , , , , , )

Racing across the Steppes, my soul caught in the moment of speed beneath the stars that is forever. It is cold out on the Steppes. It is cold and wild and where my soul was formed.

My name is Batu and I am a long way from the Steppes and my people. I had reached the age of Tolui, I had reached the age of proving. When Burilgi and Temur said that they would prove themselves greater than any since Temüjin united the tribes I wanted to go with them. Arigh said he would come as well but that was only when he discovered that Burilgi and Uma, the shaman had hatched the plan together.

The wind out on the Steppes, blows loud and long. Those who are not familiar with it find it noisy and worrisome, to me it is the song of home and of racing beneath the sky so fast and so long that you can taste it as the wind whips across your mouth.

We came together, Burilgi, Temur, Arigh and I, following the words of Uma. She had had a vision on the night that she and Burilgi spent together, she saw the icon being raised from the sea to the west, above the sacred heart of the Umay-khukh. She told us where it was and how it called to her and Burilgi vowed that at his proving he would bring back this icon from the civilised western mountains.

The wind is the song of the Horses who have gone before, they dance out of sight of all save the shamans and Tanri the sky-god. The wind carries the news of blue Umay to us, and the scent of her salt as she welcomes the loyal into her heart. The song of the Horses carries Erli and his honour to us in the sound of battle and death and we race towards it, hooves pounding across the Steppe.

We plunged into the civilised countries, fuelled by passion for the icon of Umay-khukh, we cut down all who stood in our way and our passage was a sea of bood. We were proving, we were as all Tolui in our passion and strength. All fell away from us and deeper still we penetrated until we stood before the forests that had not seen our kind since the Horde took them four hundred years before.

Erli is the God of death and to him the shaman sing. If you are lucky then one day you may mount a shaman beneath the sky; she may sing beneath you and you will see Erli as you and she reach mortal heights beneath a naked sky. I see him now and the wind-horses of my ancestors sing to me.

We reached the darkened forests of Ruritania, a country of the shamed Horses who announce their shame to the world in their name for themselves. They who call themselves Half-Horses and who live side-by-side with the two-legged filth that we can cut down as easily as breathing. In those darkened forests where we looked up and could not easily see Tanri’s sky, we knew that we were close. Burilgi led us and he sent Arigh ahead to the house, tucked between the trees, beneath the mountains. When Arigh told us the house was empty save for one, sleeping half-horse we shouted aloud our victory in wild shrieks and charged for the house with our weapons. We attacked the civilised windows, we kicked in the wooden doors and we set fires to the polished woods.
The sleeping butler was no match for us, we kicked him to the ground and covered his face with bruises and his chest with blood.
Temur discovered the golden icon in the chapel and held it aloft as we left in the firey dark. It was only later that we realised that this theft was no true victory, we had taken nothing from a nobody. Burilgi seemed angry, this was not the proving we wanted, we had plunged hundreds of miles into the country of our enemies and we had taken Uma’s icon with no resistance whatsoever.

We needed more for our proving.

Tanri’s sky, the sky that lasts from horizon to horizon and presses with eternal light upon the earth, it is not here. Here is a small sky, cut into by toothed mountains. But I can hear the wind-horse’s song and I see Erli as I never did over the back of any shaman. The scent of salt is in my nostrils, it has been growing stronger with every mile we came west, it comes to me that I may be granted a vision of Umay-khukh of whom we are told tales but who the Children of the Steppes never encounter in our distance from her.

We heard the women the next day as they sat upon the grass in the forest, we heard them chatter and laugh and Temur said we should take them. Captives to work off our anger, two-legged women to take back to the tribes, this mitigated some of our resentment to the words of Uma and Burilgi allowed it. But we had strayed from the words of Uma and when we caged the women we discovered that we had dropped the icon of Umay-khukh.

Shall I who have failed her be granted sight of her? Shall the wind-horse bring her to me to scold? To praise? Or shall I see only Erli and beyond him a sky which is far from Tanri’s own?

I was sent from the glade we had made our base, I was sent to find the golden icon. I did not see the men, the two-legs approach. I did not hear Burilgi’s cry as he urged my fellows on, did not see them cut down Arigh. I did not see Temur surrounded and beset upon all sides. I did not see Burilgi finally succumb to the darting swordsman. But I know it happened that way, the wind-Horse sings it so.

Erli stands before me, on the soft civilised grass of this Ruritanian forest. The wind-horse urges me on. I do not see her. I smell the salt but I do not see her.

I walked in the meadow surrounded by forest looking for the icon of Umay-khukh, the Luis power trapped within it awaiting only a shaman to release it. I did not see the hiding two-legs but I turned at the shout of his master and prepared to face him in single combat. He was dishonourable and ran from me. That was when the hiding two-legs hit me from behind, I whirled and sank a blow and his master came back. I cut him, I downed him and the hiding, lurking sneak-thief whirled his blades until I lay in the soft, civilised grasses, staring at the sky through a film of blood. I saw him pick his master up and carry him, running through the forest shouting for his friends.

I hear the wind-horse singing. Erli stands before me and I have failed the shaman Uma and her lover Burilgi. I have lost the Luis, the icon of Umay-khukh. The sky is closed to me and all I smell is salt.
The wind-horse brings her to me, she whose servant I have failed. She is beckoning…I of all the Children of the Steppes I see her and I shall go to her.

My name is Batu and I am a long way from the Steppes which forged my soul. I reached the age of Tolui and Umay-khukh welcomes me into her arms.

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The Valley

11 August, 2011 at 15:24 (Lace and Steel, Short) (, , , , , , , , , )

He peered into the mirror at the suit’s reflection, he still wasn’t completely certain but his mother, visible out of the corner of his eye nodded, pleased. He looked down at the tailor, a small fellow, even for a pixie. The pixie seemed to be making some last minute adjustments to the fit of the hose, presumably accomodating for his hooves which didn’t seem to help the fuss of the fashion. He wondered if the pixie too felt the sense of ridiculousness and then concluded that he probably did not, his wings were tucked neatly into a roomy linen shirt showing at least a nod towards the fashion of the commoners.

He returned his gaze to the mirror, his own outfit was more than a nod. His mother had insisted that he be ‘up to the minute’ for his first presentation at court. This at least included a comfortable linen shirt but then the tailor his mother had appointed had been stopped short by the notion leg garments for a half-horse. His mother had written to her cousin and then shown the tailor some of the sketches and read out some of the descriptions of precisely what was being worn in Paris and Strelsau. The result were the modified stockings and hose that the tailor was fiddling with now.

The stockings had no feet and were tied to the ankle above the hoof with ribbon they extended above the knee where they were again attached by ribbon. The hose…he shut his eyes and refused to look at this part of his reflection…it looked more like an apron intended for wear by his sister. Brightly patterned with the greens and golds reflected in his doublet’s slashed sleeves, it billowed out around his upper legs and was tied at the waist over his shirt and below the doublet. It was of course open at the back where the rest of his body remained it’s unclothed chestnut coated self. He wished his father was still alive and would come in, wearing his favourite leather jerkin, and kick out the tailor and tell him that no son of his had to undergo this ritual humiliation. But his father was dead and his mother looked proud enough to burst at the sight of her son in all the needless fripperies of court.

“Of course you shall have his hair in curls?” asked the tailor of his mother.

“Oh yes.” she said and he winced at having his hair in rags the night before, so tight as to make sleep impossible.

“Can’t I have a hat?” he asked, thinking of the felt creations with the feathers that he had seen some of the french musketeer’s wearing.

“You’re too young for a hat.” said his mother sharply.

But not too young to have a sense of shame, he thought looking at his unhappy reflection.

“Is madam happy with the final fit?” asked the tailor.

His mother looked at him, had him turn around in front of the mirror, expressed some last concern over a part of the belt and then pronounced him finished.

It was with some relief that he shed the uncomfortable garments, pulled on a soft jerkin for what would be the final time and ran out of the house. His hooves clattered over the fashionable sandstone and at last began to sink slightly into the lush green of the estate beyond. He charged headlong up the valley until he leapt the stone wall marking the boundary of his family’s land and raced up the wild mountainside, breathless. Coming to the summit he paused and looked about him, the forested mountains, the farmed valley, the wild rocky mountains to the east and the warm civilised Ruritanian hills to the west. This would be the last he would see of them for some time. He breathed in the air that was his own, opening his lungs as much as he could, holding it in until he could do so no longer. There he remained, on the mountain at the end of the valley until the sun’s rays turned from bright daylight into the orange-pink of twilight.

He breathed his silent goodbye to the land of his childhood and turning to head back down the mountain wished he could put off the spectre of his adulthood just a little while longer.

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