Saturday, January 23, 2016

Beyond the Rim Installment 23

Oorgo and the smith god arrived at last on the fringes of the city as evening arrived. The evening was grey as the sunset was veiled by cloud, and the shadows of the mountains were now creeping up into the city. Still Oorgo's pace had not slackened, and he kept the chain taught as he went on ahead, fascinated again by the wares of this city's edge marketplace through which they had passed that morning. By now though the merchants and sellers were gathering together their wares and sealing them up, either to carry home or to leave in Queen's chests, metal boxes able to be opened only by the owner, a device of cunning for which Thurgod was surely responsible, though they bore the Queen's name. Oorgo paused and stared at one of these, fascinated as the merchant spoke to it.
The merchant muttered a nonsense password, "Cumunreal," and the box flipped its lid open. Oorgo jumped back, and blundered into a porter carrying away the greater half of another merchants wares.
The porter turned and muttered a curse as his load, carefully balanced across his shoulders, wobbled. Then seeing the chain he through down his load and said, "So now the gods make slaves of our children, eh?" He stooped and picked up a stone.
"Have not gods held humans by the nape of the neck all of your history?" said Thurgod.
"To think you lead a child around on a chain!" and he hurled the stone at Thurgod.
It struck the smith square in the face, but then rebounded in a random direction at the same speed with which it had flown in. A woman selling pottery ducked as one of her largest pots was shattered.
Thurgod bellowed in the direction of the porter, "Fool! How is that it is I that am blind, but it is you who cannot see? The child leads me!" and he gave a shake to the chain that connected him to Oorgo. "See, even now your anger is misplaced, and your own kind are hurt for it, and the gods pass on untroubled."
"I'd soon live to see the day you die, smith-thrall."
"And I have lived to see a hundred generations of men die, and am but a day older. It would be better if you let your anger pass, for it is fruitless."
The tension hung in the air for a moment, but knowing that another stone thrown could do no good, the porter turned and balanced his burden on his back again. He meandered to a side street, muttering, as the pottress chased after him howling her remonstrances, and asking who is employer was.
Thurgod resumed his walking, giving a tug on the chain to wake Oorgo from his petrified state. "The Queen waits for me, Oorgo. It would be better if we did not make her wait long." As Oorgo caught up to the god Thurgod scooped him up and placed him on his shoulders again, walking quickly.
"He broke the woman's pot."
"I am sure the courts of the city will settle that dispute."
"The queen's court is gonna do something about it?" asked Oorgo.
"No. There are other courts. Magistrates."
"I saw some magic crates. They opened when the man spoke to it."
"You have the wrong word again, Oorgo. A magistrate is a man who tells other men what to do when they are upset at each other."
"So are you a magistrate?"
"Am I man?"
"Then I am not a magistrate."
"Did you make the boxes?"
"They are called Queen's chests."
"Why didn't the stone hurt you?"
"I am made of godflesh, and godflesh does fear to be struck by a stone thrown in anger."
"What about copper? Can godflesh get hurt by copper?"
"No. Godflesh cannot be wounded by copper."
"Godflesh cannot be wounded by any thing you will find on the planet, child?"
"Then what's wrapped around your face?"
Thurgod stumbled, and toppled to the ground, forcing Oorgo to make a rough dismount, and also crash to the ground.
The child immediately began to breath deeply and to whimper. Thurgod had known children enough to know what would come next, so he roused himself from his reeling and said, "We are already too slow. We must move on."
"My arm hurts. It hurts."
"Did it crack?"
"You do not walk with your arms; your are not so small a child as that, nor are you an ape. The Queen requires that we move on."
"What's an ape?"
"I will only answer that question if you are walking."
Oorgo hopped up, but then winced as he felt his shoulder. Thurgod began speaking immediately, "An ape is a creature with huge arms, so huge that it walks with them like feet. And instead of feet, it may have hands."
"I saw a juggler once. Can apes juggle?"
Thurgod skipped a stride as he walked. "Can it juggle?"
Oorgo just nodded and made a little skip forward, gaining a half-stride lead on the smith god. "You know. Throw balls or things in the air and catch them and throw them."
"I, I, I have never seen an ape juggle."
"Have you ever seen anything?"
Thurgod slumped his shoulders slightly. "Yes."
"I mean besides metal. Have you seen things that aren't metal?"
Thurgod did not respond, but his breathing deepened.
Oorgo looked down and slowed his pace. "I guess you must have. You knew that sunsets on the mountainside are beautiful."
Thurgod jiggled the chain idly, toying with the slack as they walked together. "Yes. They are."
The pair then walked in silence for a few minutes, Oorgo hanging closer to the smith god as the darkness fell and they reached where the shadows of the mountains fell onto the city. They finally obtained the Way again, and walked with the sunset before them, just showing between the jagged mountain peaks.
The cobbles of the Way were cool before they descended onto the city streets, and the iron of Thurgod's gate cold when they arrived. Thurgod opened the gate and let Oorgo in, then released himself from the chain. "It is the privilege of humans to close their eyes and no longer see the world. May your dreams be good, child."
"When will you be back, Master?"
"When you are asleep, if the Queen does not delay me."
"Do you know what she wants you for?"
"I think I do, but the mind, or whim, of the Queen is unknowable to most."
"Who can..."
"No more questions. It is not the time for it." Thurgod shut the gate and turned away, lumbering his stocky form as he retraced his steps towards the Way.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Beyond the Rim Installment 22

Thurgod was suddenly interrupted in the midst of the story. He and the child were only one terrace from the top of the final descent to the Sixth Mine, preparing for the long and level journey along the causeway. As they approached the last turn there appeared a sudden flash of brightness before them, and after the flash an altogether more amazing sight.
A human shape between seven and eight feet tall stood before them, its form made of twisted vines of blue, just slightly deeper than the sunniest of skies, and a color altogether foreign to those within the Rim. Obscuring his woven blue interior was the wreath of flame, blue at its base and green at its tips, which robed every part of its body save for the face and hands, and the face was obscured by a red-flame beard. Oorgo jumped back behind Thurgod, unexpectedly called out of the story which Thurgod told.
"Thurgod, thrall of Cyllgod, and Master of Smiths, you are summoned at once to the Queen's Court." The demigod's voice betrayed not even a hint of the flame that surrounded him, but was interrupted with frequent noises of snapping.
"I will come," said Thurgod. "Tell our mistress I shall come when the child is returned to my compound."
"The walk is long. You will not then be to her court by nightfall, and will make excuse to come another day. She says you must come at once."
Thurgod inclined his head slightly to be pointing his face at the messenger. "Is this how I have been in the past? When has the smith god said one thing to the Queen and then done another? Am I now suspected of deception?"
"You should be silent and do as you are commanded, thrall. It is not yours to ask questions."
"Nor is it yours to command me, nothing-god."
"I am the emissary of the queen. You are to come at once."
"I will come when the child," Thurgod tugged on the chain that connected him and Oorgo, drawing the child close to him again, "is safely returned to the compound. You know that evil men do wicked things to children caught on streets at night."
"I will take the child home; he will be in my care." The demigod spread his arms wide, a sight which caused Oorgo to stand beside Thurgod's leg, peering out at the mosntrous arms that might have embraced a dozen men at once.
"Tell the Queen this, that the smith god will come to her court when he has taken his servant safely home, and then come to her at once."
"It will be late. The stars will be bright before you could arrive."
"Has the Queen learned to need sleep? Are we not gods, free of being ruled by daylight? Did we not once..." Thurgod did not finish that sentence, clenching his jaw.
"You dare the question the queen's power of divinity? To her own emissary?" The green flares of the god's flame increased, and he stepped toward the diminutive pair.
"Emissary is a grand word to describe a nothing-god. Stand aside, and the child will go home with me."
"I will not return to my Queen without your consent to come at once."
"Then you will walk with us, and be yourself late on your return."
The demigod completed his stride toward them. "It appears your servant is a distraction to you from your duties. I will take him home now."
Thurgod stepped forward to meet the demigod, leaving only two more of his own paces, or one of the messenger's, between them. "And if I disallowed it? What then, nothing-god?"
The demigod swung his elongated limb at Thurgod, grasping his shoulder and tightening the grip, with crackling and snapping intensifying as his flame beard changed to white in fury. But the smith god stood still, his metal-wound countenance unflinching.
Thurgod opened his mouth to speak, but snapped it to again, forestalling words that would have caused him pain. He reached up and flung the arm off his shoulder, and then said, "It is now you who delay me. Leave me now to return my servant to his home, or I will have the Queen know it was your own vanity that delayed me."
The messenger leered, glancing at Thurgod for only half a moment, and then rested his eyes on Oorgo. He said the boy, "We will meet again, child," and then he started, as though to leap at the boy. Oorgo  tried to run away but the line that held him to Thurgod caught him, and he fell backwards onto the seat of his trousers.
With a flash the emissary disappeared, with only half a laugh in the air.
Oorgo ran to Thurgod, sobbing. He gasped for breaths, "He had fire and...." "How did you..." " scary..." "...why did he..." "what did he..." "I hate..." but Thurgod clapped his hand over the boys' mouth.
"Have you not seen, child, that the business of gods is beyond a boy? Then it would be better if you cared not for it, no more than it affects you or your human kind. If I and a god should disagree then it would be better if you did not think of it until you may learn from it, and you are small child. The hour grows late, and we are far from home."
Somehow the words quieted the boy, though they were little comfort. The thought of the bed of straw and waking to Thurgod's hammer on an anvil latched onto the boys mind. Within five minutes he was running ahead of Thurgod again, nearly dragging the smith god forward.
"Why do you live so far from the mine?"
"I live very far from the Sixth Mine. I live above the First Mine."
"There is a mine under my bed?"
"Then why don't I hear picks and golems, and there are no carts?"
"There are none who mine there now."
"The causeway is like a big spine, if the city were a really flat animal."
"Yes, child."