Ere the Sad Gods That Made Your Gods

I have been working somewhat eclectically but nonetheless diligently on Plenilune, and for the past hour I have found myself scribbling the following piece. It belongs before Plenilune, and pertains to one of the various 'shires,' which has some pertinence in the novel proper and puts in its obligatory appearance at social gatherings, etc. (I say some pertinence, by which I mean I think it may have rather a lot, only I haven't made that part up yet.) At any rate, the following section is a stand-alone, a mere novelized history blurb from the Honour of Thrasymene. I hope that does not sound too dull to you. I found it rather thrilling, myself.

"What have the strong gods given?
Where have the glad gods led?
When Guthrum sits on the hero's throne
And asks if he is dead?"

The Ballad of the White Horse, G.K. Chesterton (again)

* * * * *

“Will you not stand down?”
“Nay, I will not stand down! Is it in your mind that your lord rose to his height and made Thrasymene what she is by the womanish notion of standing down—do you think?”
Feyfax’s words and tone cut deeply into me and I turned hotly to check him. No one spoke so to Mother—save Feyfax, of course, which thought checked me in the act of running my head into the lion’s mouth. I watched the two of them, Mother every bit and more a match for her red-blooded son, Feyfax looking down at her serene, drawn face with the light of rage in his eyes. For a long while they stared at each other, neither moving, neither speaking—I am not sure, now, that either even breathed. I think Feyfax at least did not, for after a long silent spell he let out a long, low breath and asked gently,
“Will you stop me, O Mother?”
A thin arch of brow rose on Mother’s face and I knew, as Feyfax did not know, the horrible aching that its supercilious appearance was masking. “Will I stop you? My bull-voiced son of thunder, who in our Honour or all Plenilune will stop you from your course when once you have set your sails with the wind? Not I. Ring, perhaps, but not I.”
At mention of me my brother looked round—swung round, really, like the bull she likened him to, and stared at me from underneath his black brows. I do him a disservice to paint his portrait all in rage. Fury, often mistaken for ill-temper, was never far from Feyfax, but he was a goodly-looking man, better than I and with more presence: such a man as others are wont to follow. He took after Father in that regard, while I took after Mother more, yet Feyfax had not Father’s cool head for council—and I had coolness from Mother and Father both.
“Ring?” His voice lay down upon my shoulder like the naked blade of a sword. “Ring… Will Ring set himself at cross-purposes with me, who is as much my father’s son as me?”
I tell you that I have my sire’s cool head for council and for knowing what words to say to a man which will turn his heart in my hand as one turns a chess-piece on the chequered board. But I tell you that since I got the awful word of my father’s death—the killing death, and not by accident—it had rushed upon me that this moment between Feyfax and me would come. Now it had come, and I did not know what to say. By habit I frowned and grasped back in my memory to the moment of the news and the things which had rushed upon my mind then.
It had been a shock. Underneath my frown I thought that I must have taken it as Mother did, quietly, stone-facedly, a moment unmoving as the images whirled like the mistral through my mind: Father and my uncles hunting in Gottgovae, which are Carmarthen runs, which the Carmarthen call the Place of the Holy Dark, (for the nomadic tribes of the steppes are pagan and make gods in hidden backwoods places as men make dreams in the hidden backwoods of their minds); I saw the flickering of light-and-shadow dappling the horses’ flanks; I saw the dogs arranged in rank with their boys, strung out through the deep woodland at the base of the hills where the highlands dropped and became the easy, endless, rolling expanse of the steppes. The nomads had found them and shot them without warning, and thrown them back over the Thraysmene boarder with the brand-mark of the infidel on their brows. This I had been told, I had not seen myself. I was really not sure I could see without feeling ill, for when I did feel rage I only got sick, so that Feyfax had that much over me in constitution. I did hate him a little for that, for it was a raw soreness below my belt which I was painfully conscious of, which neither of us ever mentioned, which always lay between us.
But now was not a time for soreness and sickness and rage. I came back, looking out of my eyes once more, feeling rather stark pale in contrast to Feyfax’s angry colour. For a moment it did not quite look like Feyfax’s face, then it came back into focus once more and I knew what to say.
“I put myself at cross-purposes with no one, Feyfax, for I run sails-with-the-wind with our father.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mother look away as if to hide her face: I did not see her expression.
Feyfax flung up his head, nostrils distended, a growling snort in the back of his throat like that of an angry stallion. “Do the dead make their own vengeance! I will honour our father and I will not allow his death to go unpunished, his name to go besmirched. He will have his vengeance. They will pay the blood-debt.”
“In blood?” I asked softly.
He cut off the word with his teeth: “Yes.”
I left the moment in silence for some time, looking over the hard, uncompromising lines of Feyfax’s mouth and handsome brow, looking at the pale yellow and amber radials of his eyes. He would be a hard man to win, I realized, if he would be won at all. And suddenly my shoulders felt very weary under the weight that was settling on them. I felt rage turn over once in my belly and then become that horrid sickness; but I was careful not to let it show in my voice when I spoke.
“Look at the thing thus, as Father would have looked at it, and consider. Thrasymene has never been great among the Honours: her land is poorer than others, her griefs greater than others, with the sea on our right hand and the steppes on our left and she caught between them. Mind you what work Father has put himself to making a voice worthy of hearing among the gatherings of the other Honours, at the New Moons and at feasts and in judgment. Perhaps our soil is poor and our wind smells of salt, but he gave us a voice. He gave us respect. He knit us so that we are not so many manor houses and petty lords as we once were, but an Honour in our own right.” I swallowed back the bile in my throat and steadied my voice again as it was time to drop from the rhetorical thunder to the soft entreaty. “The wicked live long in bitterness, but to the good heart comes the arrow at noon. Let us take this murder as testimony to our father’s greatness and make his memory that of a martyr. Do not undo the labour of our father through war, for how could we know who did the deed?”
Here Feyfax interrupted me. “How could we know? Perhaps we could not, but we could be sure if we killed them all.”
Mother never said a word, but out of the corner of my eye I saw her whip her head around, her face white, sheer white, and the steel disbelief was in her eyes as her son’s words hung heavy on the air.
I forced myself somehow to go on as if my thoughts had not been broken. “So. And it would be fitting, would it not, if we think in terms of blood-debt, for them all to die—for where is there a man of worth like our father? Surely every drop of blood in Plenilune would just atone for his murder… But will it soothe the bitterness? Will it bring comfort to our mother, will it bring more children to this bower; will it solace and guide our Honour? Are we heathen gods—” my voice rose in rhetorical pitch “—that we drink the blood of our foes and are thus satisfied?”
The owlish eyes flickered over my face. The other’s face darkened under my own gaze, darkened and grew distant and strange. “What man are you,” asked Feyfax softly, accusingly, “that war is so distasteful to you?”
For a moment I was dreadfully afraid Mother would rise to my defence, which would have been to add injury to insult, but thankfully she made no sound or movement. Indeed, I think the three of us made no other sound or movement for some time, and then I heard my own voice saying, perfectly levelly and with a tone I did not recognize,
“How dare you dishonour our father with such words?”
The tawny eyes flashed. “Dishonour? At whose door is this dishonour, when you will not lift your hand to avenge our father? Father! Does the word mean nothing to you?”
“It means the world to me, Feyfax, as you cannot believe!” I retorted. I was losing my grasp on my rhetoric. “And it is thuswise that I choose to honour our father’s life and living, not his death and grave! I will not see his work torn down and cast sunsetward into the sea as if it were nothing for the sake of spilling blood out of someone’s heart—blood which cannot bring his blood back into his own! The life of our father is gone, Feyfax. Take not the life of our Honour in your quest for vengeance.”
We were both panting now, the sound of it throbbing in the little light-flecked bower which belonged to our mother; our heads were lowered, our fists were clenched—I did not recall closing my own, and what a tiny fighting cock I must have looked before that bull which was my brother!
“So,” said Feyfax, very quietly, as if he had finally reconciled himself to the thoughts in his mind; “you will set yourself at cross-purposes with me.”
“Oh, my sons,” our mother groaned, and hid her face behind her hands.

10 ripostes:

  1. Wow. That was spectacular, Jenny; the richness of your writing style really shows through in Plenilune. You have such wonderful turns of phrase. This one in particular stood out to me: "...looking at the pale yellow and amber radials of his eyes." However, now I wish to know what happens to Ring. I hope that plays into the story-proper in some fashion, even if you haven't made that part up yet.

  2. This is really wonderful and thrilling, Jenny! When I first saw it was an excerpt I was tempted to read it later, but then I took a moment to glance at it and I was immediately swallowed into the story :). As Abigail said, the way you put phrases together and give images for the scenes so vividly is amazing and really captivating! I truly wonder if Feyfax will go to war still, and I wonder what may happen to Ring (I really like his character by the way!).

    I've done that before, to write a scene in my story where I have not yet reached... it can be quite fun actually. I can't wait to read Plenilune one day!

    God bless,

  3. Oh... <3<3<3<3<3 That was quite thrilling and absolutely gorgeous. The emotion flowing through it was so easily felt... and of course, as always, reading your writing is watching words come to life and scenes play in your head like a movie. :)

  4. Oh Jenny. I was right there with Ring, feeling what he felt. It was *living*, Jenny. If all history was this interesting and enveloping we'd be merry as crickets. :D

  5. "Yep, this cricket's a lucky one!"

    If all history were written this close to the heart, I think the stories would be even grimmer and wrenching than ever. They would definitely be less dry and certainly more interesting, but I think I would bawl a lot more and hate history a lot more if everything were depicted as sadly as it happened. Oh, for the blissful blindness of generations...

    I certainly wasn't expecting this story to pop up. It was an unexpected explanation of how Thrasymene got to have three sisters presiding over it - rather grim, unapproachable gals, particularly Black Malkin, though Woodbird Swan-neck isn't a bad egg in her way... But some characters, which shall go unnamed, were being coy and lazy and generally unwrathful, and I was in need of something red-coloured to write. Old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago, and all that. Quite. I don't know how this particular story ends (I expect I'll think of something when I'm supposed to be thinking of something else) but I can tell you that it doesn't end happily. It's the Norse in me.

    I don't have any Norse in me.

  6. You goose. I love you. That last line made me crack up.

  7. Speaking of Norse, I admit that when I first read this piece, I thought very much of Thor and Loki (okay, I recently watched Thor). Except that Loki (the silver-tongued, cool-head diplomat) was bad in the end, and I doubt that's Ring's fate, and Thor (the more flare-tempered, red-blooded brother) ends up gentling in the end (and here I don't know enough of Feyfax to comment). But I think you're very original, so the comparison probably isn't even fair! :-)

    I feel like I've been floundering recently as far as finding memorable phrasing and colorful imagery, but your writing style has revived some of the old prose-poet in me. I look forward to leeching more inspiration from your future postings!

  8. I find, Yaasha Moriah, that if I am running dry I can pick up Sutcliff or Chesterton, or a kindly spate of words between Lord Juss and Brandoch Daha, and my inspiration is usually restored. The probably is that my language isn't spoken a great deal publicly, so I have to go back among the people who do speak it. It's probably quite natural, I suppose. But just so you know: you're not the only one.

    Well that I am a goose! I can be quite full of tomnoddishness and goosefoolery if I put my mind to it. Not so full as Anna, say, but I put my best foot forward. The left one. I'd make an unchancy Roman.

    I hadn't thought of a connection between Thor and Loki and Ring and Feyfax. It is true that several of the Honours, Thrasymene included, have a gentle influence by the Nordic culture, but not so much as that, I think. They are more like Tostig and Harold Godwinsons, I think, than Thor and Loki. But we find similarities in our own familiar hunting runs, and perhaps the Godwinsons had not made it into yours just yet, Yaasha Moriah.

    Funny odd thing how people can never seem to stay in their own time, but must come barging into mine, and from thereforth launch attacks into the times of others.

  9. "At any rate, the following section is a stand-alone, a mere novelized history blurb from the Honour of Thrasymene. I hope that does not sound too dull to you. I found it rather thrilling, myself."
    Put that way, it did sound as thought it might be dull.

    It wasn't anything like.

    I needed a good bit of blood-stirring today! Plenilune looks to be quite an adventure. Is it set in the same 'verse as Adamantine? You said they were related, but it seems different.

    Your comment about your left foot gave me a mental picture of you, right in the midst of formation, and as the company (or whatever you call it. My Roman terminology has suffered from lack of daily contact with you) as the company marches forward, the entire thing collapses on itself, all because you have struck out unthinkingly with your left foot. :-P

  10. This is very grand. You are an absolute word-smith, I must say; the way you craft words into images is wonderful, and puts me very much in mind of Rosemary Sutcliff.
    Ring and Feyfax (I really like their names; Feyfax is such an interesting name, and really fits him well) rather remind me of Feanor and Fingolfin, two brothers from Tolkien's The Silmarillion.