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So many years ago you betrayed me,
how can I let you forget it when
you hurt me so,
What did I ever do to you
to make you betray me?
Do you ever think I would betray you
in such a way that you betrayed me,
No, I never would but you did to me
and you hurt my feelings ever so deep.

I have tried so very hard
to mend my feelings towards you
in a loving way
but I can't because you betrayed me

When sister turns against sister
and betrays one another they are no
longer sisters,  You betrayed me
and what did you gain, you lost
my love and affection because
you betrayed me so long ago
and what I lost I can never have
back again because you betrayed me.
Hidden face Jan 2013
Alone. She has no home. No where to go. Who can she trust? Mistrust. She's been betrayed. Delayed. Mistrust. Betrayed. A mistake. A trust. Him. I love you. A hug. I hope I'm not bothering you. Betrayed. Rumors. i loathe you. Disgust. I thought I could trust you. Betrayed. She's dealing. Learning. That this is life. She's feeling down. She's been deceived. A sad clown. Plowed down. Betrayed. Broken. She lost her will. Her token. Sullen. Now who can she trust?
Alexandra Faith Oct 2017
I loved you more than life itself but I betrayed you. I told you forever and that you were the only one but I betrayed you. You were my dream come true but it ended with a nightmare. I betrayed you. All this love and regret will be the end of me because I betrayed you.
You said you’d love me forever but I betrayed you how many times Can I say I’m sorry and that it meant nothing to me but you won’t believe me because I betrayed you.
I’m gone I’m no longer a part of this world because I betrayed you. And I left a path of hurt for more than one. I betrayed you.
jeffrey robin Apr 2013
All the night long!

The far song
Plays in trees of light
----
.
Dreams!
.
We would
(Finally!)

Go forth and find
The keys to the kingdom

Walk thru the doorway
Stroll unto heaven!
-
-
-
Was it even there??

Children?
.
or
Fools!
------

Now
Where are we ?

Who are we!
------
betrayed

Betrayed by our trusting
Our loving
Our caring
Our simple hope for a pure grace
-----

betrayed

Alone

In deserted fields
Broken
Alleyways

--

Listen

Listen!!
.

The far song !

I hear it !

Whistling thru the dumpsters out to the streets!

Come on!  Come on!  Come on!
Evna-Luna Jul 2016
I once had a friend
Her beauty very rivetting,
Her eyes like the moon beam
Her nose ETHEREAL
her voice like a Serenade
She loved everything beautiful and
Mysterious
She was drawn to mystery
Her name MUNA
mine LUNA

And so we planned
Planned how we would live our lives
She wanted to be a medical doctor
To save the world
I on the other hand was not
Sure who I wanted to be.
She told me she would save the world
From pain
From strife
From evil
She was always ready
Always vibrant
Always steadfast
Always innocent
The light shined on her
And she glittered at night

But then
The Cloud gave way
And the light that paraded her beauty
Began to fade
The air that loved her vanished
And a wicked aura came
The beautiful cloud took an hiatus
And a strange eerie sky took charge
Her world began sinking in the dark
And the doors of joy shut against her
A stranger came to her
And overwhelmed her with burning darkness
He held her and dragged her
He dragged her into the night
She wanted to run
But he was too dark to be outweighed
He was too strong
Too carlous
As he took her away
Into his monstrous world
I began searching for her
But couldn't find her
I searched through the dark valley
But all amounted nothing

Muna was precious
And always smiling
She had plans
She had ambitions
She loved life
She loved God
She wanted to be loved
But this monstrous stranger
Hit her
He bit her and took away all her innocence in the most callous way
He tortured her and took her by force
All her dreams he swallowed
All her glory he vanished
Stabbing her with the knife of frustration
He became her God
And one day when she tried to run
He caught her
And burnt her with pain
Her body became his dustbin
And he was in charge

And after shattering her
After breaking her will
After destroying her zeal
After swallowing her dreams
After using her to mop the floor
He left her bare

My friend Muna
I saw her
My friend was worse than a shadow
My friend became a fleabag
My friend had been broken
Killed and buried
Even though alive
I asked my friend
Why have you become so pale?
She smiled and dropped me a note?
Which read

It was BEAUTY
MY BEAUTY
IT WAS BEAUTY THAT BETRAYED ME
The grace of my smile
The smoothness of my skin
The firmness of my *******
The sweetness within my thighs
My BEAUTY BETRAYED ME
AND SOLD ME OUT
And now I am a crushed flower
A crushed flower that will never bloom or rise again
A flower that will die slowly
All because
My beauty sold me out
I never wished to be beautiful
I never wished to be *****
BUT LIFE HAS BETRAYED ME
AND So LUNA MY FRIEND?
UNTIL WE MEET TO PART NO MORE

GOODBYE MY FRIEND.

As I dropped the note
I looked around but couldn't find her
My Friend Muna
Has gone away
For she had been crushed without measures
By a Man like you
A man just like you reading this POEM
HOW MANY MUNA'S HAVE YOU CRUSHED?

As i sit and write this sad tale, I cannot help but CURSE all Men who have crushed so many Muna's out there.....

BUT WITH TEARS IN MY EYES I ASK THIS LAST QUESTION,
CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHERE DID MY FRIEND GO?

Evna-Luna © 2016.
This brought tears to my eyes and I am still asking please can someone tell me where did my friend go?
Sacrelicious Jul 2012
In these times,
I am.
Unsure of what
I see.

& If
my eyes,
have not betrayed
my heart.

I will, only know you..

As a
monster,
Medusa.

Is your snake hungry?
Poetoftheway Aug 2018
,how do you know when
(a human is too broken?)




<•>

human too broken?

like the light bulb, removal from its fixture, a simple shaking revelation of the tinkling filament spent, something that cannot be repaired, the only option is replacement and that makes
you cry

the empty box of oatmeal raisin cookies, you find secret’d,
hid by you, not to be found by you
at the bottom of the kitchen garbage,
but box betrayal, by the chartreuse tipped box lid sided
peeking upwards, asking, silencing screaming,
what did I do to deserve
this degrading

like the blouse now too tight that it brings stares as the buttons strain, unwelcome attention unintended,
you know it but still pretend not to see,
for you both once loved that silky guise that so
heightened the high tender, the match of your pink rose skin letting, no! making
your eyes glisten, like broken filament glass, on the sidewalk,
recalling the pleasured admiration,
rain remembered from the
prior priority of a life consisting of only
perfect gifts

so mean revert to the poseur question; this is how...

remove the human from a fixed place, whimpering-threatened,
you may hear clear the crackle cackling  of the innard shards against the misperception of a body intact,
even if you do,
no repair service you want,  can be found, see it nowhere,
is it even
anywhere advertised?

the body presumed intact is secret’d under a tactile coverlet,
holey scupperrd holy cuttered
so that the cells and bicuspids, the threads
no longer function in a tandem,
you keep it in the closet closed,
in the back, deep hid, where,
when it screams why,
it can be safe ignored,
because  ‘betrayed’ is no longer a word,
in your globe's dictionary,
the parental controls activated by you to
save your own inner child’s unconstrained confusion,
it has been removed


so the broken glass, the clothes you dressed each other,
if not weep-well,
well enough hid,
the fit is off,
the fit is off,
the coverlet ripped so bad and neither cares
an unexpected poem, unplanned, needing work
aug 4-5
McKinna Bunch Dec 2012
My best Friend
The one who is supposed to stay by my side,
Thru thick and thin
Betrayed me

She took the boy I loved
She took him and used him.
Used him against me
And I forgave her

She seems to forget that fact.
My best friend.
She didn't realize that her horrific act,
I forgave.
And she seems to think I forgot.

But I did not

Now she treats me worse than before
Calling me the bad one.
Saying I'm the fake one.
Spreading lies about me.

My best friend,
Well. she isn't best now,
She isn't even a friend
and never was a true one.

My ex-best friend,
Betrayed me.
Andy Cave Aug 2012
The tears well up then pour from your eyes
you fall to your knees and you scream at the sky.
She broke your heart, drove the knife through your chest
and for the greatest of friends, the one you call "best".
You try and you try to keep it together
but it's so hard because this pain is forever.
Jack Lucid Oct 2014
You said you'd wait.

It was a lie.

Underneath a somber grey and pallor sky

I hold my still beating heart in my hands

and yet I  still capitulate to your quaint demands

With a smile  on my face

I'm still Bereaved

with a smile on my face

I still believe  

With a smile on my face

I  still taste  bittersweet and metallic malevolence  

Some still claim hate is folly

but the only thing I  regret is love or was it lack thereof?

I still dream

and In between memories and make believe happy- endings  

I wake up drenched  in  feverish and sickly-sweet sweat.

I've been betrayed

go ahead and stick your blade in my back and twist

twist until i cease to exist

Twist until the earth runs red

with blood and regret

with tears and sweat

and i can still feel your breath upon my neck

and your words still caress my fragile disposition

but i still wake up alone

and I still wake up betrayed.  


********
Dark Angel Jan 2013
For you have betrayed
The Dark Angel.
I was bound to have loved you.
Your words invite me,
Unite me,
And still betray me.

Is this how you repay me!
Say you will stay with
Me until death,
Just one life time.
Your voice calls to me,
Unites us within my dreams,
But you have drawn back
Within fear.


In all my fantasies
I have always knew,
The angel above was you.
Your power grows very strong
Over me infusing me with desire.
The desire to love,
To love the angel.

With this fallacy instilled
Within my dreams you
Still betrayed me, my angel.
Why my angel,
Why is it that
You have betrayed me.


I the dark angel had needed you,
You the angel of the night.
You shall curse the day you
Betrayed the dark angel.
To many years fighting
Back the tears,
And now my blood,
Nears to an end.

You my angel shall
Turn to meet your fate.
The time is too late,
There is no debate,
No way to change your fate.
A couple months old, wrote it after a pretty bad break-up
Bad Luck Jul 2018
In a wakeful contradiction, it lays fact between my fiction,
Tangling subatomics, it unravels as its tricks spin
deeper toward the outward...
                                      it won’t let up, 'til I give in.

Over matter, lay my mind…
I tell a lie to pass the time...
But there’s no reason nor a rhyme --
                                            Less still, a purpose?
I search for something to remind my mind
                     that there’s truth that isn’t worthless…

But as always, failure appears;
                              in a sort-of amnesic continuity.
And my reality lies to my own mind
                              Just as well
                              as it succeeds in its futility.
With destruction as its manifest,
It tells me that I stand my tallest
                              Upon two buckled knees.

And just as faith will find one’s doubt --
                  a search within has left without.
It seems that an answer, once sought out,
                  will be left lacking its question.
My truth divides itself,
                   as a product of infinite misdirection.

I try to substitute a reason for a rhyme.
But with no lies left to pass the time...
                              I swallow a dose of ignorance.
It goes down smoother than the truth.

In a war that started with a truce,
This world betrayed my faith to show me:
                                 that I'm only tall enough
                                 Once I’ve been
                                                         cut
                                                             down
                                                                ­     slowly.

A pill too large to swallow,
                I think I’m choking on myself . . .
Or the irony of asking,
                     “How could I be so careless?”
Here I stand, Barely standing,
                   Consumed almost entirely
By my own dry-heaving self-awareness...

Left to fight the fears that my nightmares create;
I’m still running from my past,
                          yet, haunted by my fate.
They walk beside me always,
                          shadowing wholeheartedly —
Existing as a duality, both apart from,
                         and a part of me.

These ghosts have taught me very little...
                                    Aside from what I hate.
But, I've come to learn not to fear
                                    The forceful hands of fate.
For I shudder not at the thought of destiny,
                                    Or the inevitable in time...
Instead, I fear the eventuality of the choices
That were solely, and entirely, mine.

I fear that my will may be of enough influence, alone...
That fate itself may collapse beneath decisions like my own.
Or that I, myself, might be constructing
What destruction I will find
Among my shattered spirits and convictions,
In these depths to which I climb.

"Bad Luck: In a Wakeful Contradiction" is now available on Amazon in paperback!

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1691941182
Yenson Aug 2018
Build me a slow boat to Timbuktu via China
Heave down a fleecy cloud and let me float to Nirvana
Hunt me a unicorn and let me ride to the Enchanted Forest
Find me a giant eagle and let it lift me to Outer Mongolia East

'please don't leave me here amongst demons with human faces'


Show me a Church and I'll show you a hall full of Sinners
Point out a wife and I'll reveal a liar and a fake and none dimer
Call a Doctor and its a Monster who betrayed the Hippocratics
That Government Boss is a cruel heinous snake without ethics

'please don't leave me here amongst demons with human faces'


See that Preacher and see a spineless hypocrite back-stabber
That lover was nothing but a sick deranged false **** twister
My dear acquaintance a heartless corrupted shyster unhinged
A Newsagent full of pitiless, gloomy, vile, psychotic joy-suckers

'please don't leave me here amongst demons with human faces'


That friend of years a bloodsucking Judas who betrayed and stole
Uncles who rained terror with sadistic pleasures in parts unwhole
Show me nieces and find two-faced ******* with poisons in veins
Neighborhoods full of silent killers and Rapists of truthful genes

'please don't me leave here amongst demons with human faces'


A vicars' daughter wielding angst axes better than a viking
The pathetic Moors zombies tearing flesh on masters beholding
The dead-eyed Arabs salivating madly or at daggers drawn
Contemptible Men-kids with pin ****** used as King's pawns

'please don't leave me here amongst demons with human faces'


Build me a cottage in rolling green fields with blue skies
Find me a fair maiden with a true heart and warming smiles
Show me a place that holds fairness and justice real and dear
A world with humanity we're all sisters and brothers for care

'please don't leave me here amongst demons with human faces'


copyright@LaurenceA.9th August2018
Ron Sanders Feb 15
(Glade, World, Master, Boy, Hero)

                                                 GLADE

There is a glacier.
Its blue tongue’s tip just tastes a frozen gorge.
There is a gorge, its walls shattered by cold; a once-green thing that, in dying, birthed a thousand aching fissures. It works its jagged way downhill, round ragged rifts and drifts until it comes upon a little frosted wood.
There is a wood, an island locked in ice.
Within this wood the gorge descends. It wanders and it wends; it brakes and all but ends outside a clearing wet with sun. And there, forking, its bent and broken arms embrace a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a glade.
And in this glade the black bears sleep, though salmon leap fat between falls. Here the field mouse draws no shadow, the eagle seeks no prey; they spend their while caressed by rays, and halcyon days are they. Here rabbit and fawn may linger, no longer need they flee. For in this timeless, taintless space, the Wild has ceased to be. (Outside the glade are shadow and prey, are ice and naked death. There blood may run freely. There the eagle, that thief, is a righteous savage, a noble fiend. But once in the glade he is dove, and has no taste for blood, running freely or otherwise).
And in this glade there nests a pool:  a dazzling, blue-and-silver jewel; profoundly deep, pristinely clear. All who sip find solace here, for this is the Eye of Being. They lap in peace, assuming blear, not knowing it is seeing. And ever thus this pool shall peer:  a silent seer, reflecting on—all that Is, and all Beyond.
(Outside the glade there lies a world where rivers ever run, where ghastly calves in random file revile a bitter sun. East, the day is born in mist. West she dies:  her rest, the deep. And North…North the Earth lies mute. Wind gnaws her hide, wind wracks her dreams. Wind screams like a flute in her white, white sleep).
But in the glade are tall, stately grasses, sunning raptly, spinning lore. Roots render the rhythms, blades bend without breeze, as signals ascend from the glade’s tender floor. (In this wise the glade weaves its word, airs its views. All the glade’s flora are bearers of news). They do not wither with fall, for in the glade there is no fall. They do not bind or wilt or brown—they gesture, spreading the mood, the mind; conveying, indeed, the very soul of the glade. As ever they have, as they shall evermore.
Bees do not hum here; they sing. They fatten the dream. Mellow and round are the timbres they sound, sweet is the music they bring. Birds do not sing here—they play. They carry the theme. Dulcet and warm are the strains they perform. Gifted musicians are they. (All in the glade are virtuosi. They were born to create. Melody, harmony, meter…are innate). Now the performance is lively and bright, now full, now almost still. For, though all in the glade may lean to the light, they must bend to the maestro’s feel.
And yet…there was a day, long ago in a dream, when this ongoing opus was torn. And on that day (so the lullaby goes) the wind brought a scream, and Dissonance was born.
There was a noise.
Moose tensed, their coffee eyes narrowed, their patient brows creased. Bees mauled the tempo, birds lost their place. The grass stood *****, all blades pointing east. There was a crash, and a shriek, and a naked, bleeding beast burst stinking through the fern, fell stumbling on its face.
Moose scattered:  unheard of. Sheep brawled, geese burst out of rhyme. The symphony, forever endeavored to soar sublime, fluttered, plunged, and, for all of a measure, ceased.
The pool was appalled…what manner brute—what kind of monster was this? Furless flank to forelimb, hide obscured by blood. As for its face…it had no face; only a look:  of shock frozen in time, of horror in amber. A deep welling rift ran temple to chin, halving the mask, caving it in. Such a grievous wound…the pool watched it stagger, on two legs and four, thrashing about till it came to a rise. There it labored for air, wiped the blood from its eyes, lashed at illusion, looked wildly round. Beholding the pool, the beast tumbled down.
And there this wretch plunged his thirst, drank his fill, fell back on his haunches.
The pool became still.
The two traded stares.
The glass read his features:  that durable eye pondered the wreckage and probed the debris. Revolted, the pool sought the succor of sky. But that thing remained—that face…in all creation…surely there could be…no other creature so ugly as he.
And he gazed in the glass.
Beneath the surface were…images…swimming in currents of shadow and light. He saw half-shapes and fragments…hideous men, exotic beasts…saw blue worlds of water, saw white worlds of ice…it was all so vague and unreal—yet somehow strangely familiar. Deeper he peered, but, as his mangled face neared, the sun smote the pool and the shapes disappeared. The brute pawed the ground and, dreaming he’d drowned, shook his head sharply and slowly looked round:
There were starlings at arm’s-length, transfixed with suspense, their tail feathers trembling, their dark eyes intense. Fantails and timber wolves, stepping in sync, paused for a sniff, stooped for a drink. Bees, pirouetting, threw light in his eyes. Seizing the moment, the pool pressed its hold.
And the glade revolved.
The freak watched it spin—saw the ferns’ greedy fingers reach round and close in, saw the tall grass rise high in an emerald sheen, swaying to rhythms from somewhere obscene. This place was madness; he struggled to stand, but, weak as he was, keeled over cold.
And the glade heaved a sigh, and the tall grass reclined, in curious patterns once rendered in whim. Far off in thunder the hard world replied, as iced pines exploded and screamed on the breeze. Down bore the sun, a chill just behind. The pool, grown blood-red, fended frost from its rim. Details dissolved in the oncoming tide. The pool dimmed to black. Night seeped through the trees.
Now flora found slumber while, pulsing below, the pool was infused with a soft ruby glow.
Soon birds bearing beech leaves, and needles of pine, laid down a spread and returned to the limb. But breath from the North blew their blanket aside. The wind grew in earnest, the air seemed to freeze.
And the wolf and the she-bear, of contrary mind, abhorring their task approached, looking grim. They sniffed him for measure, then, loathing his hide, growled their displeasure and dropped to their knees.
All night these glum attendants flanked his naked quaking form. The rising moon drew dreams in gray.
In time the man grew warm.

Morning swept through the glade in one broad stroke of the master’s brush, dappling the foliage with amber and rose. The pool was roused by the sweet pass of light. He opened his eye and the glade came alive:  into the whirlpool of life a thousand colors swam, chasing the scattering eddies of night. The magic of morning began.
Bluebird and goldfinch descended in rings, primaries clashing with robin and jay. Dollops of sun, repelled by their wings, spattered anew on the palette of day. Banking as one, the hues struck away.
There was a crowd.
And in this crowd that oddity sat, its chin on its chest, its rear pointing west. Its forepaws lay leaning, upturned and at rest. ***** and blood messed its muzzle and breast. Passed overnight. Or perhaps only dozed…tendril by tendril, claw by claw, the crowd decompressed:  the ring slowly closed.
And the stranger cried out and shifted his seat. His eyes sought his feet—rounding the arches, and topping the toes, the tall grass was questing. The little brute froze.
And the fauna took pause, and the flora went slack. Leaves followed talons, stems followed claws. Hooves tromped on paws as the crowd drifted back.
Not a breath taken. Not a move made. Stillness, like fog, enveloped the glade.
Now the grass tugged his feet, now the sea of jade splayed—left hand and right, the slender shafts reared. Gaining momentum, blade followed blade. The green field was torn till a deep swath appeared. The swath hurtled west, reflecting the sun. A hundred yards distant it died. Once more the grass stood, its tips spreading wide. The swath, born again, repeated its run.
Plain was the message, and clearly conveyed. The newcomer gawked. Confusion ensued.
The tall blades were swayed by the pulse of the glade.
But the swath was not renewed.
Something tiny bounced by. He ventured a peek, barely rolling an eye.
A chocolate sparrow, with pinfeathers black, popped past an ankle and paused to look back. The bird cocked its head, rocked in place, hopped ahead. It fluttered. It freaked. It glared and stopped dead. Vexed to its limit, it burst into flight.
The sitting thing watched till it passed out of sight.
Now a breeze bent his back, picked him half off his stern. The wind, done its best, grew flustered at last. It trailed to the west, thrilling lilies it passed. It wound round the willows and didn’t return.
So the fauna repaired to the live oak’s shade.
A strange kind of stupor fell over the glade.
From deep in the wood came a shape through the trees—a pronghorn, perhaps, or an elk swift and sure. But up limped a moose, a flyport with fur, low in the belly and wide at the knees. Wizened he was, scarcely able to see. Neither vision, nor vigor, nor velvet had he. He hobbled abreast, then groveled or died, his nose facing west, his tail flung aside.
The brute merely glazed.
But the glade was unfazed.
Those long shafts reshuffled. A tense moment passed.
The ominous shadows of badgers were cast. Three left their holes, as if to attack. They pedaled like moles and the stranger jumped back. He stumbled, fell flailing, and, kicking his guide, threw out his arms and tumbled astride. First he stepped on his tail, then he stepped on his pride. The moose bellowed twice and shook side to side while the little pest clung to his high, homely hide.
And the old moose unbent to his knees by degrees. He reeled like a drunk down the path of the breeze. Together they lurched through a break in the trees. And all morning long, and on through the day, both beggar and bearer would buckle and sway. The moose lost his temper, but never his way.
And the wind blew the sun to its deep ruby rest; the scrub, in obeisance, inclined to the west. Their slow taffy shadow in slinking would seem to slip round the rocks like a snake in a dream.
And the sun became a beacon, and the underbrush a stream. The wide Earth took their weight in stride, and the wind named him Hero.

                                               WORLD

When the sun was low the old moose began to stumble, at last limping to a halt beside a swift river lined with stunted pines. He’d half-expected a somewhat graceful dismount, but Hero, dug in like a tick, wasn’t about to let go. The moose knelt until his joints objected, shimmied, bucked, and with a sudden whirl sent the little bother flying.
Hero scraped himself out of the dirt and looked up forlornly. The ancient moose, his good eye gone bad, glared a long minute before hobbling away, his bony **** rocking with dignity, his scraggly tail fighting off imaginary flies.
Hero managed a few steps and dropped, staring in disbelief as the moose disappeared between half-frozen pines. He remained on his knees for the longest time, his jaw hanging, waiting for the moose—waiting for anything to show. At last a ruckus to his left snapped him out of it. His head ratcheted around.
Fifteen feet off the bank, three screaming gulls were dancing on an immense stone outcropping, fighting over a rapids-tossed sockeye. Hero was instantly famished. He wobbled to his feet and stumbled twice wading out, only regaining his balance by leaning against the current while rapidly wheeling his arms. The shrieking gulls reluctantly backed off as he stepped in slow-motion through the rushing water. Hero lunged at the slapping fish, cracked an ankle on the rock, and hopped around howling with both hands holding his shin. One foot was as good as none in the surging water. He went right under. Before he knew it he was being swept downriver.
This was glacial meltwater, so cold he quickly lost all sensation. Hero swallowed a mouthful and surfaced fighting for life; too disoriented to combat the current, too numb to realize his waving arm was striking something solid. That solid something turned out to be a swirling clump of rotted birches tangled up in scrub. He embraced one of these trunks as the mass slammed against isolated rocks, kicked his feet wildly, and somehow hauled himself aboard. The raft ricocheted rock to rock until repeated impacts sent it spinning. Giddy from the whirling and soaking, he clung freezing to the trees, retching continuously while the river roared in his ears. Through spray and tears he made out only cartwheeling fragments of the world.
But then the river was widening, its fury dissipating. The raft was approaching the sea. Hero gasped as the seemingly boundless Pacific swallowed the broad red belly of the sun. And as he spun he was treated to a panoramic, breathtaking spectacle:  the great indigo ocean with its slow traffic of driftwood and ice—voiced-over by the dismal calls of foraging gulls, and broken rhythmically by intermittent glimpses of the river’s rocky banks growing farther and farther apart. Whirling as it went, the dying man’s soul was taken by the sea.

At the 59th Parallel in winter, the Pacific coast plays host to numberless floes and minor bergs orphaned from Alaskan coastal glaciers. Hero cruised into a watery gridlock on a boat of ice-glazed birches, one bit of flotsam among the rest.
The cold wouldn’t let him move, wouldn’t let him breathe, wouldn’t let him think. He lay supine, feet crossed and hands clasped, terrified that to budge was to roll. An ice patina grew over the tangled trees like a white fungus—this growth soon webbed his fingers and toes, speckled his chest and thighs, glazed his hair and face, danced and disintegrated with his breath’s tapering plumes.
Floes and frozen-over debris tended to group with passing collisions; Hero’s married birches bit by bit accrued a mostly-submerged tangle of trunks and branches, all becoming fast in a creeping ice cement. Night came on just as resolutely, until land was only a flat black memory. The raft moved silently over the deep, still accepting the occasional gentle impact. And the floes became thicker and wider in a freezing doldrums; soon the proximate sea was all a broken field of packed ice, bobbing infinitesimally with the planet’s pulse.
Long ghostly strands of fog came striding over the torn ice field. They leaned this way and that, their mourners’ skirts tearing and patching and leaning anew. The ghosts were there to seal it:  their locked fingers and gray diaphanous wings were quickly becoming a wholly opaque descending shroud, its boundaries lost in the soughing wind.
Collisions came less and less. Darkness and silence, breaching some previously impenetrable barrier, began to take up residence in Hero’s chilling marrow. From his very center broke a weak little cry of refusal, of denial, as mind mustered frame in one desperate bid for freedom. His skin, frozen to the raft, peeled right off, and at that his inner brave succumbed. Hero’s smashed head arched back. His face contorted frightfully while the little lamp fluttered and paled within.
A raucous chorus slowly worked its way through the mist. It emerged a few hundred yards off—a tiny, terrified barking, growing in clarity as it grew in volume and urgency. It was a sound beacon. Hero strained eagerly, and when for one excruciating minute the beacon was cut off by a large passing body, was certain death had claimed him. Then it was back, and his heartbeat was quickening. He caught a heaving sound…something was moving his way down a wide tributary between floes. Hero could hear a gasping and snorting, accompanied by a hard slapping and splashing. The sounds vanished. In a moment the raft was rocked from below.
A sputtering muzzle blew salt in his eyes. A cold slimy flipper flapped across his chest and slapped about his face. The fur seal barked directly in his ear. Whiskers raked his dead cheek. The seal barked again.
Back below the surface it slipped. Hero listened anxiously as the splashing sound retreated whence it came.
The seal swam off perhaps a hundred feet and began barking hysterically.
From much farther off came a profusion of answering barks.
The seal swam back to Hero’s raft, circling and calling, circling and calling, while the responders approached en masse.
Now a sallow beam could be seen cutting through the fog. Several more showed vaguely along a plane yawing with some huge, barely discernible object.
A herd of northern fur seals burst into sight, barking madly, beating through the ice. They converged on Hero’s raft, really bellowing now.
Those odd yellow beams came in pursuit, and soon were close enough to eerily illuminate a gigantic wooden vessel parting the ice. The seals barked ferociously. Whenever the vessel leaned away, those nearest Hero’s raft would absolutely howl.
The fog deepened, condensed, crystallized, and then the collective light of a dozen lanterns was playing over a low, listing nightmare. Hero could hear the shouts of many aggressive men, but the waterborne seals, rather than scatter, boarded the ice and redoubled their din, fighting their way onto his quickly mobbed raft.
The sealers hurled serrated spears even as they clambered down rope ladders. When these men reached the ice the seals snapped and gnashed madly, refusing to be dislodged. The sealers lost all composure with the thrill of the hunt:  wielding clubs, spears, and hatchets—sometimes using iron bludgeons or any old utensil handed down—they crushed skulls, dragged carcasses, hooked animals still spurting and bleating. Clinging though he was, Hero was flabbergasted by the way the slipping and scampering men went about their butchery, hacking and smashing more with passion than with precision. But not a single seal attempted to flee—throughout the carnage they barked all the louder, egging on their slayers, carcass by carcass drawing the impassioned sealers to Hero’s ice-locked raft.
It was all so hazy and macabre. Hero’s eyes rolled back, and the next thing he knew he was sitting hunched on the vessel’s sopping deck. Two men were rubbing his limbs while another poured warm water down his back. He looked around in shock. The very notion of a boat containing more than one or two individuals—a sort of floating tribe—was way beyond his ken; so to see it, to have it come looming out of nothingness, was an experience almost supernatural.
He remembered some of those fur-covered men force-feeding him mouthfuls of halibut and seal fat, and he recalled a small group standing around him, shouting words that made no sense at all. After that he had a very vivid memory of their angry little chief repeatedly punching him while hollering one angry little word over and over and over. Hero couldn’t make out his inquisitor’s face, for the large feather-lined hood quite engulfed the man’s head, yet he could see those quick eyes flash as they caught the oil lamps’ light. Finally this man stopped boxing Hero’s ear. He stared hard. In these remaining decades of the tenth century it was fully within his power to administer as he saw fit—he could have ordered Hero’s immediate execution and not a man of his crew would have objected. He hesitated only because there wasn’t a hint of resistance in his prisoner’s pinched and frightened eyes. He leaned forward, studying the wound that all but split Hero’s face in two before grunting, raising his right arm, and yanking down its seal hide sleeve. Attached to the stump of his forearm was a primitive prosthesis consisting of a thick oak cap strapped to the arm with lengths of gut, and, hammered squarely into the center of that cap, a broad, cruelly hooked blade chiseled from a narwhal’s tusk. He held this obscenity in front of Hero’s eyes, traced the face’s deep diagonal rift, and once more demanded his captive’s identity. Hero then vaguely remembered being dragged along a tilting deck and thrown into the ship’s tiny hold. He retained a strong mental image of landing in a place of musty odors and dank projections.
There came a soft scuffling in the darkness, and presently a blind and exceedingly old woman felt her way to his side, mumbling as she approached. Her speech was comprised not of words; it was rather a running gibberish of cooing vowels and clucking consonants. The old woman was as mad as her circumstances; sick with sea and solitude, bedeviled by age and confinement. She sat cross-legged, patting her withered palms up his arm until she came to his face. Her strange mumbling soliloquy rose and fell as her bony fingers daintily explored the newly opened wound. Hero let his head fall back in her lap. A pair of hands like emaciated tarantulas scurried through the filth and tiny bodies until they came upon an old otter’s pelt bag that held her secrets. The woman loosened the bag’s cord and extracted an assortment of herbs, sniffing each in succession. She then scooped a handful of blubber from a bowl made of a previous occupant’s skull, kneaded the selected herbs into the blubber, and commenced gently massaging the wound, clucking and cooing while the black rats watched and waited.
For nine interminable days Hero remained in that cold, stinking compartment, rocking back and forth between life and death. The old woman never gave up on him. She clung to him during his seizures, rubbed his limbs vigorously when his blood pressure fell. She gathered various accumulated skins and, using woven strands of her own long hair, sewed him a multilayered, body-length wraparound with arm sleeves and very deep pockets, working by touch with a needle formed of a cod’s rib. By this same method she was able to fashion a pair of heavily lined snug-fitting moccasins. The old woman made him eat; she masticated the cod and halibut their keepers pitched into the hold, then shoved the results down his throat with a long gnarly forefinger. She called into his screaming nightmares, talking him out of sleep and back into their foul little reality. Together they lowed in the dark, while the keel groaned along and the waves beat time.
At the end of those dark nine days his strength was restored, but not his mind. Once again he was taken on deck.
The vessel had reached a chain of remote wind-swept islands, rocky and treeless, naked except for patchy carpets of hardy grass. These islands stretched far to the west, shrouded in mist. The ship was making for the smallest; just a chip on the sea. When they reached depth for anchorage Hero was hustled into a rowboat and lowered over the side. He looked up, saw two men climbing down by rope. These men positioned themselves at the oars and slowly rowed toward the islet. Seated between them, Hero felt like a man being led to his execution. He snuck a peek. The rowers’ heads were lowered, their features completely obscured by the heavy feathered hoods; they had all the somberness of pallbearers. Not a word passed between them as they rigidly worked their oars:  the only sound was the dip-and-purl of wood in water. Hero looked away. Against his will, he found his eyes drawn to that rocky islet waiting in the fog.
Not a bird, not a sea lion, not a shrub. It was lonesome beyond imagination.
Upon landfall one of the men used a spear’s point to **** Hero ashore. While his companion steadied the boat, he removed a skin sack full of half-frozen halibut, followed by a few armloads of precious tinder. These articles he tossed at Hero’s feet. He resumed his place at the oars and, without looking back, used the blunt end of his spear to shove off.
Hero watched the boat moving away, watched the men climbing their ropes, watched the boat being hauled aboard. As the mysterious vessel receded he saw a number of those silent men standing at the stern, stolidly returning his stare. Their hooded forms grew smaller and smaller, finally becoming indistinct. The vessel was swallowed up in fog.
Hero looked around, at a desolate world of rock and drifting ice. In the sunless pools at his feet a few purplish, flaccid sea anemones were waving in a sickly phosphorescence; along the rocks ran a tattered quilt of wild grass and lichen. It was the end of the world. He began to pace in his anxiety, only to crumple bit by bit inside his furs. At last he just sat with his face in his arms and wept. When he could weep no more he raised his head and opened his red, swollen eyes.
There were gulls all around him, staring like statuary in a madman’s garden. Standing in their midst were auks and puffins and murres, absolutely spellbound, unable to lean away. The silence was broken only by a wild, fitfully pursing wind—a wind that seemed, eerily, on the verge of producing syllables. And on that wind a flock of terns was rising slowly, their beady eyes fixed on the lone sitting man. The terns watched as he trembled, and banked as he swooned.
Then, beating as one, they threw back their wings and blew into the sun.

There was a blaze.
Behind that blaze a pair of black, bug-like eyes met his and immediately withdrew. A man wrapped in caribou hides stood abruptly, drawing angry swarms of sparks.
The Aleut peered queerly into the icy Pacific, his craggy profile merging seamlessly with a jumble of rocks showing just beyond his shoulder. The man was very tall, closer to seven feet than to six, and thin almost to emaciation.
He was also a mute. Soon enough he would display a talent for communication through gutturals, but now his body language spoke louder than words. It told the shivering stranger that he was not only disliked—he was feared.
The islander removed the hides he’d piled on the sleeping man. He produced a bone awl and strategically pierced a caribou hide, draped the hide over the old woman’s handiwork, and ran a cord of tightly woven tendons crosswise through his made holes, knotting it at the bottom to create a kind of cloak. He then killed the fire, heaped wood, fish, and remaining hides into Hero’s arms, and led him to a tiny cove where his long skin canoe lay in the grass. This was not the one-man kayak used by his people for centuries, but an actual canoe modeled on the graceful vessels he’d observed under the control of northern coastal tribesmen. After dragging it into the water he perched Hero in the fore, placed the cargo in the middle, and stepped into the rear like a gaunt furry spider. The Aleut dug out a paddle and began pulling with smooth strokes of surprising muscularity, his black eyes trained on his quiet companion’s back.
So began their long island-hopping journey. They stepped the chain one stone at a time, living off the sea. But much as the islander disliked Hero’s vapid company, it was not in his nature to proceed expeditiously; his people, remote as they were, had learned to count not in days but in generations. Given this, the Aleut took his time. He showed Hero how to build shelters of skin and gut; during bad weather the two would sit on an island in utter silence while rain hammered on their stretched seal-intestine window. And one very clear night he pointed out constellations while attempting to demonstrate, using broad gestures, just how the brighter heavenly bodies were in perfect alignment with the Aleutians. Hero followed his guide’s gestures as a pet follows its master’s movements and, like a pet, soon became bored. The Aleut did not grow flustered. He grew ever more wary:  behind that granite, weather-beaten exterior squirmed a very primitive imagination. Superstitious as he was, the Aleut was almost certain Hero could read his mind. So one time, and one time only, he threw a searing look at the back of Hero’s bowed and listing head. After a long minute of vigorous thought-projection he shifted his gaze aside. The brute appeared to feel this shift, and gently turned his head. And both saw the ocean break rhythm, and watched as otters and sea lions surfaced, noted their progress, and slipped without tremor beneath the waves.
In spring the fogs lifted. The grimness gave way to serenity, a generous sun buttered the dappled sea. On the islands grass grew lushly. Wildflowers leapt on the color-starved eye.
And one day the islander’s nape itched. He turned to see a flock of arctic terns casually tracking them under a gorgeous, white-plumed sky. As the day progressed the terns came drifting high overhead, slowly but surely taking the lead.
The Aleut squinted against the sun. He’d never known these birds to pursue a westerly migratory pattern—the terns were distributing themselves into a rough wedge shape, much like geese on the wing.
For a while he let the flock be his guide. Then, to test his stars, he cunningly steered his canoe north. At once the wedge disintegrated. Not until he’d lowered his eyes and pulled purposefully to the west did the disrupted pattern reassert itself. He peered up timidly. The wedge was now in the shape of a perfect arrowhead.
Just so were the fates of mariners and aviators inextricably entwined. At night, once the Aleut had landed his canoe on the nearest pearl, the terns would light in a quiet circle and remain until sunrise. As the Aleut and Hero took to sea, the flock would quickly form that same authoritative pattern.
In time the Aleut paddled his companion clear to the westernmost islands of the Aleutian chain. His people had dwelt, even here, a thousand years and more, but no contemporary islander knew for certain what lay beyond. Legend told of an enormous land mass forever gripped by cold, where a cruel people waylaid innocent seafarers for barbaric sacrificial rites.
So here the islander paused. But even as he vacillated he noticed the terns were veering south.
If the Aleut had been able to curse aloud he would have been vociferous. He was being compelled to follow an even less desirable course—that of the unknown open ocean. Now he looked upon his passenger’s hunched back not with fear but with loathing. He took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, and defiantly continued west. The wedge broke up immediately. The terns dive-bombed the canoe, whirled around the windmilling Aleut, tore skyward and hovered determinedly. Something huge broke surface behind them, but the Aleut was way too frayed to turn. He dropped his head, a beaten man, and began paddling south. Little by little the birds returned to formation.
The tiny canoe had no business going up against the mighty Pacific. It would soon have been swallowed and smashed, had not the terns veered in close formation whenever the distant sea appeared too rough. Once he’d lost his bearings the Aleut religiously followed their serpentine course.
The days began to warm.
Now the sea’s bounty all but leapt in the canoe.
It seemed the Aleut was forever catching the finest currents, practically sliding down a corridor entirely free of peril. In this manner he was able to safely navigate waters no such craft had mastered before.
They were proceeding south by southwest, awed children of a plenteous, generous sea. The going became easier by the day, the ocean heavier with cod.
Nights the Aleut drifted comfortably, but a lifetime of wariness made him wake off and on. He’d slowly rise to find Hero sitting quietly under the stars, and soon he’d see, pallid in moonlight, a large body neatly pleating the ocean’s surface. The shape would precede them a while, only to vanish without a ripple.
All this strangeness kept the Aleut’s heart in a whirl, though he took pains to maintain his poise.
To allay his fear he kept a flat black stone planted squarely between them. It was his oldest treasure; an oddity he’d taken off the body of a mauled Tlingit woman when he was a child. Who she was, and how she’d come by the stone, were mysteries far beyond him, for no such piece had ever been known to Aleut or Inuk.
The stone was smooth and had been worked perfectly round. Bright yellow specks were scattered about its dull black face.
Long ago someone had etched a quaint and clumsy rune on that flat black surface—it was the crude, universal symbol for sun:  a broad circle surrounded by several rays. When the stone was rubbed against a pelt it possessed the curious property of growing quite warm and bright in the rune’s grooves, while the surface remained cool and dull.
This stone, both friend and overlord, had always “spoken to him”. It caused him to become restless when it was time to move on, and allowed him to relax when a destination had been reached. In this way he’d come to the familiar islet and discovered the unconscious little man. Just so:  the stone, he was sure, was responsible for making him “feel bad” as he watched the stranger shiver, and “feel better” once he’d built him a life-saving fire from the small pile of tinder he’d found nearby.
By now, however, the Aleut was wholly disenchanted with his stone, and deeply regretted having done its mysterious bidding. Never before had he been so long from sight of land, and never before had he felt so very, very small. The unimagined immensity of the Pacific was really starting to get to him when, after all their while at sea, a gray, seductive haze broke the horizon. They had reached another chain of islands, an Asian chain, the dark and smoky Kurils. Here a cold current kept the climate cool and foggy, and the chill, along with the prevalence of otter and seal, made him feel almost at home.
But this place gave him the creeps; he was a stranger, a trespasser somewhere sacred. There was a looming quality to the island mountains that made him extraordinarily aware of his transience, his pettiness, his puniness. He grew more and more cautious, sure their progress was being monitored—he could have sworn he saw wraiths in the trees, and wolves padding warily in the brush. The big islands looked on breathlessly. All along the rocky cliffs, thousands of auks and puffins followed the canoe in dead silence, their heads turning simultaneously, their countless tiny eyes peering redly through the fog. As the weeks passed, the Aleut’s anxiety was manifested in tics and sighs, and he’d cringe each time the crimson sun sank behind those black volcanic summits. In his imagination the mountains would rise right out of the sea, as though to pluck him. But the islands, in all their dignity, would always refuse to acknowledge so meek a stranger, and return their eyes to sea. The Aleut would hang his head, and timidly paddle by.
Then for days and days he pulled his weary canoe west—through a strait parting two mighty islands not part of the chain, and thence across a sea that was a warm, enticing bath. Spring had come to the East Asian coastal waters, and the Ainu, alone and in groups, were venturing deeper in search of increasing bounty. The Aleut, absorbed in his thoughts of sweet climate and bitter fate, was unaware they’d been spotted.
This first meeting between strangers of different worlds was a brief and awkward one. A lone Ainu fisherman, seeing the Aleut come paddling out of the unknown, dropped his net and turned to stone. The Aleut, for his part, instinctively froze with his body turned half-away to make the leanest target possible. Their stares locked. Never had the Aleut seen a face so heavily bearded, and never hair so fair. The Ainu began banging on his bronze catch pail. Other fishers soon appeared from the north and south, effectively cutting off the canoe. The Aleut caressed his stone and looked to the sky. The wedge had vanished. He put down his head and paddled for all he was worth.
With the word out, uncountable fishing craft appeared out of the blue and broke into hot pursuit, their pilots determined to force the canoe ashore.
Suddenly they were in sight of land, and the sea was absolutely riddled with watercraft. A train of small boats cast off from the mainland, even as a posse of two-man coracle-like tubs began to surround the battered skin canoe, their inhabitants calling back and forth in astonishment at the sight of these dark, savage newcomers. But the pursuing little coastal men, banging excitedly on the sides of their boats, were not Ainu. They had very straight black hair, prominent cheekbones, and strangely slanted eyes. And their speech, oddly marvelous as it was, was a rapid series of coos, chirps, and barks. Their boats formed a tight semi-circle around the canoe, forcing the Aleut to approach the mainland. The little men banged their boats maniacally, with more joining in as the canoe neared shore.
A bit farther south was a natural harbor swarming with fishing vessels of every description. As the canoe was forced into this harbor, people along the rocky coast began banging whatever they could get their hands on, until the air was filled with their lunatic percussion.
Tiny brown men came running along a soft yellow cliff overlooking the harbor, gesturing wildly. The canoe was squeezed between a chain of tubs and the shore, and, as it slowed, the tempo and ferocity of the banging decreased accordingly. When the canoe came to a halt the banging and shouting stopped. Hero creaked to his feet. The first North American to set foot on Asian soil stepped out shakily.
There followed the profoundest silence imaginable.
A second later it was as if a dam had burst.
Hundreds of hysterical, yammering voices erupted from hundreds of hysterical, clinging men and women. Hero was spun around, jostled about, handed along. He stared into their astounded, pinched little faces, and the sun, pulsing between their heads as he was turned, repeatedly stabbed his eyes. There came an excited outburst and frantic splashing which could only have been the Aleut’s violent demise, and then Hero was somehow limping alongside a primitive fishing village, blindly following a narrow dirt path that hugged the yellow cliff’s base. The warm spring sun caught the dust as he shambled. He rounded a bend and stopped.
Half a dozen children stood in his way, too fascinated to run. A chatter and scuffle rose behind him. He looked back to see that he was now in the midst of a small crowd of these children, and that more were running up with cries of amazement.
A stone struck his shoulder. As Hero turned another glanced off his chest.
A moment later he was being pelted from all sides, and the giggles and gasps had become something wildly unreal. He dropped to his knees in a hail of hurled rocks, covered his head with his arms, and slithered up the path on his belly.
A new voice broke in; an older, authoritative voice.
The children scampered off squealing.
Hero, shaken to his feet, found himself face to face with a diminutive, shouting, incomprehensible old man. The old man threw his arm around Hero’s waist and, jabbering all the while, led him to a secondary path cut into the cliff’s face. This path sloped gently upward over the waves. Together they picked their way to a place maybe halfway up, where the cliff’s face was honeycombed with natural alcoves and dug-out caves. Most of these spaces were used as one-man shelters; a few, cut deeper in the earth, as family hives. Strange gabbing people slid out of these holes like worms, reaching, but the little old man, who was evidently a little old man of some stature, embraced his find possessively and shouted them back inside.
The path narrowed as they climbed.
At its summit spread the upscale end of the neighborhood. Hero was led to a hovel nestled amid dozens of similar hovels, all scattered around a dainty stream wending between patches of stunted vegetation.
The old man’s place was basically a one-room hut fashioned of earth and salvaged boat hulls, with a slender side-yard surrounded by dry, dusty hedges. But inside it was clean and tidy, with rice paper partitioning and, built into the far earthen wall, a miniature stone fireplace. The old man sat his guest in the exact center of the room. There he fed him scraps from his bowl, using long sticks to pluck out bits of fish and clumps of tiny, starchy white pellets.
He studied the brute closely, watched him chew, walked round and round him. He poked here. He pinched there.
And that night he lit a fire on his crushed-shell hearth.
Hero curled up on a mat where the gossip of flames could reach him. Nearby, at his delicate wicker table, the old man sat in semi-darkness, illuminated only from the waist down.
But his eyes were alive. They spat and darted as they reflected the fire’s light, and, when at last they’d begun to sputter, his scratchy little voice came pattering out of the dark, muttering something vile and oddly modulated, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a gathering snarl.
Hero feigned slumber, unable to ignore those paired ominous flashes. Still, the room was cozy, and the fire warm, and the play of light and shadow kicked sleep in his eyes.

In the morning he woke in the old man’s side-yard, his head pounding, a rusty iron clamp securely fastened around his neck. This clamp was attached to the outermost link of a crude three-foot chain, and the link at the other end to a long stake driven into eight inches of solid rock. The chain and stake, like the clamp, were hammered of local iron. The clamp was too tight for comfortable swallowing, the chain too short to make standing possible. Hero could, however, spread out on his chest and stretch an arm to a low row of hedges. By parting the tangled undergrowth he had a limited view of the fishing village below, and of the harbor beyond. As the days passed he was able to tweak himself a view-space discernible only from his peculiar vantage. He accomplished this by gently breaking small branches strategically, then guiding their interrupted growth with the utmost tenderness. It was his secret garden.
He had no memory—none whatsoever—of being staked here. Obviously the old man hadn’t set this up overnight. Hero’s mind prodded timidly…how many others had been chained to this spot, and why?
But over the subsequent weeks and months he went beyond caring. Each day was the same:  just after dawn the old man would storm into the tiny side-yard swinging his reed whip wildly. The lashings were savage and unremitting. The old man, except for his eyes, would be mute. Only his whip need speak. And the snap of his reed had but one message:  when you see this whip you go down, and you go down immediately.
The naked savage, scarred head to foot, learned to go prostrate on the moment. Even so, the old man couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge in the occasional good old, all-out thrashing. And after each session he would toss the prisoner a vile mess of dead fish and rotting leftovers.
Hero lived like this for many months, lost in a confused world of pain and anticipation. Perversely, he came to look forward to the bite of that whip, for, whether he flogged him in passion or just for sport, the old man was always sure to make it personal. It seemed their relationship might go on forever.
But one day there was a great commotion in the sleepy little fishing village. Hero parted the leaves and beheld a small train of oblong coaches at rest near the harbor. Large oxen yoked in pairs lolled between the carriages, immune to the clamor around them. There were dark shaggy horses and colorfully dressed Bactrian camels. The horses and camels were tethered in the rear, but were occasionally paraded around the carriages by little men wielding long painted bamboo poles. The whole affair was exotic and mesmerizing, eccentric and profane. Hero watched all day in amazement, infected by the hubbub, though he was totally mystified by the crowd’s fascination on the carriages’ far side.
And late that afternoon he saw the old man come walking out of that crowd, talking heatedly with another man. The stranger was shorter and broader than the old man, with long stringy hair and long stringy mustaches. He saw them climbing the path, saw them crawl inside a hole lashing furiously. They were lost from view for a minute, then popped up big as life. Hero glowed and curled up eagerly as they approached.
The old man and stranger came into the narrow side-yard still arguing. The old man grabbed Hero by the hair and twisted until he was facing the newcomer.
The stranger had oily, porous skin, and a round but grave countenance. His highly slanted eyes were bright and restless. He studied Hero’s mutilated face with keen interest before borrowing the old man’s reed. When Hero scraped at his feet he grunted and returned the reed.
The stranger pulled out something shiny and hefted it in his hand. He then raised his other hand while considering Hero, as though weighing him too. The old man’s eyes glinted, and for an instant his expression became grotesquely servile. The stranger and old man, facing, nodded curtly in unison. The stranger dropped the shiny thing onto the old man’s itching palm. The old man whipped Hero frantically before taking a small ax to the chain. A few hard blows split a link, the broken link was bent back by the tool’s shaft, and the prisoner was at last released.
The old man handed the stranger a short hempen rope. The stranger bowed deeply. He then tied an end of the rope through one of the remaining links and began dragging Hero along. Hero’s hands sought the old man, who kicked and cursed him all the way to the path. The three stumbled single-file to the bottom. The old man waved his arms and shouted hysterically, trotting behind until he ran out of breath. But he got in a final kick and, before he came to a gasping halt, managed to lash Hero once for old time’s sake, and to spit on him twice for luck.

There were five carriages; a long one in the center hitched to four oxen, and two smaller coaches in the front and rear with a pair of oxen on each. The carriages were old and battered, built of splitting wood slats and rusted iron braces. Various hides, spare wheels, and a hundred odds and ends were tied to the sides and roofs. Hero’s new master, using him as a ram, shoved him through the crowd to the long carriage. He hauled him up the single wood step and watched the crowd’s reaction. Children hid behind mothers, mothers hissed and jeered, men spat in that smashed, disgusting face.
Satisfied, Hero’s master twisted the rope tighter and dragged him through the hide flap that served as the carriage’s rear wall.
A strange ruckus began at their entrance.
Inside the carriage were bulky shapes and quirky movements, yet the immediate and overwhelming impression was one of unbelievable stench. Hero, instantly covered with flies, was kicked and shoved down a foot-wide aisle. The carriage’s walls were riddled with black flecks of old dried blood, the floor coated with standing *****, a variety of small carcasses, and some clinging, indefinable slime. But the living contents of this hell were so horrifying, and so unexpected, that Hero at once dropped to his knees. Observing this, master grabbed a whip off the wall and lashed him along the floor.
A number of bamboo cages lined either side of the carriage, each four feet high, four feet wide, and three feet deep. In the first cage to their left, a quadruple amputee dangled in a leather harness in a cloud of flies, jealously gnawing a chicken carcass balanced on his belly. The second cage held a man who had been burned over ninety per cent of his body, and the third a middle-aged woman with no eyes or tongue, her head shaved. The next cage housed a fully grown black leopard, its bright eyes fixed on the horrified newcomer. Then an empty cage, and finally a cage containing a demented man whose long yellow nails were busily raking a face deeply scarred and bleeding.
The first cage against the opposite wall held two girls rolling in their own excrement. Siamese twins unable to part, they had developed a unique method of locomotion, and now executed a three-quarters cartwheel in Hero’s direction, their mangled, severely bitten hands attempting to reach him through the bars. In the cage next to theirs a naked dwarf glowered menacingly, his eyes following coldly as Hero’s master shoved him down the narrow aisle, occasionally pausing to lash a cage. The hissing and howling increased as each prisoner beheld the new neighbor.
The third cage held an intensely sick adult Bornean sun bear, so confined it was entirely unable to move. Its hide was a patchwork of scraggly fur and grayish skin, glistening with odd eruptions. It rolled its sunken eyes in Hero’s direction, its muzzle twitching feebly.
The next cage contained a man who was frightfully diseased. Broad fungal patches covered his face and limbs, terminating in waxy folds that dangled like a rooster’s wattles. Welling sores spotted his chest and back. His eyes were bugged and sallow; his lower lip drooped below his chin. He barked wetly at Hero’s passing legs.
The second-to-last cage housed a rare, completely hairless Chinese albino, and the last cage a very tall, skeletal woman. The albino snapped at Hero while repeatedly banging his head against the cage. The woman hissed and coiled like a snake, her spine arching amazingly.
Master hauled Hero to the empty cage on his left, swung its door open with his foot, and forced him to his knees by pushing down with all his weight. He kicked and punched until Hero had been squeezed inside, then shut and secured the wide bamboo door.
Master inched his way back down the carriage, hammering the **** of his whip on each cage as he passed. There was a glimpse of daylight as he lifted the flap.
Once he’d departed, the carriage grew eerily silent.
Hero cautiously turned his head. Less than a foot away, the black leopard was frozen in place, one paw waving hypnotically in his face. The beast’s fangs were bared, its ears straight back, its eyes glistening. Hero turned ever so slowly, until he was looking into the eyes of the demented man in the final cage. The man cocked his head quizzically. A second later he was screaming his lungs out in a bizarre downward spiral.
At once the carriage erupted. The freaks shrieked and scrabbled, the leopard spun in place. Directly across the aisle, the albino hurled himself against the bars of his cage. He batted his face with his fists, threw back his head, and just howled and howled and howled. The snake woman curled even tighter, her long scrawny legs entwined behind her head.
Hero sat with breath held, absolutely silent, absolutely motionless. He very, very slowly closed his eyes.

Later that night the flap was flung high. The menagerie came alive as master, weirdly illuminated by moonlight, slowly made his way down the aisle carrying a skin sack oozing blood. He stopped at each cage to toss in a dying chicken and a handful of smelt.
When he reached Hero’s cage he looked down thoughtfully.
He extracted a quivering chicken and held it above the cage so that blood dripped on the brute’s deeply pleated forehead. Hero lowered his eyes. Master’s face darkened. He smashed the bird against the cage, over and over, a vein throbbing in his temple. Finally he hissed and displayed the limp chicken high over the albino’s head. The albino yelped and kicked, thrusting his hand up between the bars and jerking it back to lick away the blood rolling down his forearm.
Master eyed Hero coldly before pointedly dropping the chicken into the albino’s searching hands.
Master hissed again. He slowly made his way out.
Soon there was a commotion outside. The carriage rocked a bit before settling. Hero, turning in his cage to peek through a rift in the wood, saw horses being urged forward. He could hear men shouting. The carriage rocked again. He looked up and saw the gibbous moon suspended in mist. For just a second something wedge-shaped cut across its soft white face.
But then the oxen were grunting, the wheels had been freed, and the horses drawn abreast. Master’s lash spat left and right, and the show proceeded…west.

                                              MA­STER

She was very round and very small, with very short, very shaggy black hair. Her arms bore the scars of numerous bites from beast and man, and around her neck ran long wheals from a particularly savage owner. Hero, having spent the better part of the morning watching master storm in and out of a strange screaming house, now watched him drag the little round woman through the dirt. For a while he listened to the song of his master’s lash, waiting for the woman to break. But there was never a whimper.
It had been a difficult transaction for master, and an altogether difficult morning. For hours he’d paced up and down the main carriage, alternately murmuring affectionately into, and lashing at, each cage he visited. The sun bear, long dead and stuffed, had been taken outside for barter. It had soon been returned.
Master had lingered over Hero’s cage for a good while, staring critically. He’d begun shouting, and three of his men had burst in through the flap, unlatched the demented man’s cage, and dragged him out by the feet for trade, master personally stomping on his torn and groping hands.
And now master was kicking and shoving the little woman down the aisle as his men restrained her by the hair and throat. Upon master’s command these men stripped her naked and commenced pinching and slapping while making threatening faces and mocking noises. The freaks sat right up in their cages.
The woman looked as though she’d fainted:  her arms were lax, her eyes rolled up. Her whole face seemed to purse, and her body, head to toe, began to run blue. Her fingers quivered, arched, and clawed—the woman was self-asphyxiating. Master fairly leaped with delight while the cages rocked around him. He had the men slap her awake. Once she was fully conscious they stuffed her into the demented man’s old cage next to Hero’s.
Master then looked in eagerly, one to the other, his hands balled into fists. The woman buried her odd round face in her forearms as she squeezed herself into her cage’s deepest corner. Hero gazed indifferently and went back to his peephole.
Master exploded. He smacked and kicked the cages over and over, swore up and down, ran the shaft of his whip back and forth against the heavy bamboo bars. Eventually he calmed somewhat. He stared coldly at Hero, made a ***** smile, and spat right in his eyes. A tense minute passed. Master slowly made his way outside.
Hero automatically relaxed. Across the aisle the albino ****** his face between his cage’s bars to sniff the newcomer. The leopard, bobbing rhythmically, emitted a high-pitched squeal that gradually descended to a steadily throbbing growl.
Hero looked the stranger over. Once she’d lowered her hands he saw that her eyes were crossed, her jaw slack, her face as round as the full moon. He looked closer. There were scars all over her throat and arms:  plainly, the small round woman had been treated very badly. Hero instinctively slid a foot between the bars; the woman cried out and scrunched even deeper. Across the aisle the albino quickly extended an arm. Without knowing why, Hero turned on him. The albino flinched, his eyes tearing into Hero’s. A second later he was stamping his feet and grinning wildly. Hero went back to his peephole.
Next morning master and two of his men dismantled the bamboo walls separating Hero’s and the woman’s cages. They bound the frames with broad leather bands, making a single cage of the two.
A common door was fashioned and secured. Master used his broad blade to shear away Hero’s rags. The men hunched around the long cage expectantly.
The naked couple backed away. Master was instantly exasperated—he shouted, lashed furiously, stamped and screamed, jabbed a broken shaft between the bars with malevolent intent, whirled and hurled the shaft at nothing. The carriage’s inmates went out of their minds. At master’s bellowed command a man scurried outside, returning with a long rope of woven leather strands. Master opened the cage and, applying all his weight, pinned Hero and his new mate in an awkward embrace while his men tied them together.
Again master and his men bent over the long cage to watch.
When Hero realized his predicament he made a desperate attempt to reach his peephole.
The men, misreading his struggles, babbled and cheered, but master threw up his hands. He then, through gesture, ordered his men to drape a number of hides over the long cage. Once these hides were in place he very quietly bent to one knee and placed an ear against the cage. After a while he cursed and rose to his feet. He shook the cage and stormed out, whipping and kicking the howling inmates.
In the semi-darkness the man and woman quit fighting their bonds.
A muffled patter began on the hide-covered roof.
Rain, as always, had a calming effect on the carriage’s occupants, causing the freaks and beasts to slip, one by one, into lethargy or slumber. Under such a spell, the attainment of master’s goal was inevitable.
It was a coupling both innocent and vile, without passion or celebration. Occasionally the freaks would surface, register their excitement by shrieking, shaking their cages, or otherwise clamoring…but very quickly the air would stifle them, weighing their heads and confusing their impulses. The atmosphere grew heavier by the minute. And, when night rolled over the carriages, the rain came down in sheets.

Leaning ******* the woman’s cage, master slipped his gnarly hand between the bars and slowly rubbed her belly in a counter-clockwise motion, his sinister features soft in the candle’s light. And he told, in nonsensical cooing whispers, of a lovingly secure and impossibly prosperous future.
How large and promising that belly had become! And how wise was he, the cunning and aggressive master, in his far-reaching business decisions. He turned his affection to the motionless gaping brute; stroked the battlefield of its face, tossed in another lizard. Master rubbed his palms together. From now on it was extra lizards daily, for both the woman and her mate. He remarked, with only passing interest, his star player’s continuing indifference. They didn’t know each other, didn’t need each other.
There’d been months of shows on the road now, broken only recently by this sensible rejoining of the mates at conception.
Hero’s horrible disfigurement was unquestionably top draw; he was a guaranteed crowd pleaser at every stop. So now master looked him straight in the eyes and smiled. He held the reeking candle high. The carriage was absolutely silent. Master smiled again, rose to his feet, tiptoed away.
Hero watched him retreat until the flap had fallen. He returned to his peephole, saw master round the rear of the carriage and slowly crunch by. For a time he could see nothing but the half-shapes of junipers bathed in starlight. There was a tentative movement to his right and a large shape came to obstruct his view.
The horse stood for a minute in profile. It slowly brought its head to rest against the carriage, applying its eye to the peephole. Hero froze. The two remained fixed, eyeball to eyeball, while a breeze played odd tunes on the outer wall’s hanging paraphernalia. The horse’s big dark eye rolled nervously. A long moment passed. Slowly the horse backed off. It stood uncertainly for a while, staring at the peephole. Then it quietly moved away.

Master kicked the cages one by one, left hand and right, as he slowly made his way down the aisle. Into each cage he delivered a personalized warning in passing—a growl, a hiss, a bark—but he was quickly losing control. Animal electricity hopscotched the carriage, cage to cage, ceiling to floor, front to rear and back again. Master froze. Much more of this excitement, he feared, could seriously agitate the woman—with grave consequences for master.
She was splayed on her back, in labor’s throes, her ankles and wrists bound to the long cage. Hero had been removed to give her room, and now sat hunched atop the snake woman’s cage, two men holding him by the throat and legs.
Master gnashed and snarled, listening to the woman scream, watching her stupid round head bounce up and down and back and forth. He knew it! He’d been suckered, hoodwinked, scammed—ripped off like a common rube. The woman was too ******* to handle even something as natural as childbirth. Still…it was too late to second-guess himself—all these months he’d been patient—he’d been supportive and vigilant and now he would not be denied. He flogged one of the men to alleviate his tension.
The blue lady was very slowly, very dramatically arching her spine. Master wiped the sweat from his eyes. When the bars were pleating her big round belly, her shoulders began drumming on the straw-strewn floor.
Master screamed one very colorful expletive.
A razor silence came over the carriage. Not a body moved or breathed.
At last two men tiptoed around their purpling master and leaned into the cage. One obediently ****** a foot between the bars. He pushed ******* her right knee while using a hand to grip the left knee, spreading her legs wide. The other man drew a broad leather strap between her teeth. After lifting the woman’s head he pulled the strap behind her neck, knotted it to make a gag, and yanked a skin sack over her face. He looked up anxiously. Master licked his lips and nodded. The man made a fist and frantically punched the woman’s face until her muffled screams ceased. She moaned gently throughout her contractions.
Master genuflected, brought a spitting candle in tight, and took a deep breath. As he raised his hand the candle’s light bounced off his knife’s chipped and scored eleven-inch blade. Master swore and reached down carefully. He flicked his wrist twice and the menagerie went mad.

The child was a tremendous disappointment.
Master had eagerly anticipated an infant ******* and deformed; something embracing the best qualities of its parents. He had even designed a special cage that could be expanded by degrees as the spawn developed. There also remained the tantalizing option of a family display, though such an undertaking would require the eventual construction of a structure even larger than the cage its parents now shared. Master anguished over the logistics, knowing it would break his heart to have to cut one of his jewels’ throats just to make room for a growing child. Nights he would slowly pace the carriage with all the possessiveness of a jealous suitor, one hand maneuvering a sputtering candle, the other tenderly rapping his whip’s **** against each visited cage.
But the boy was a flawless specimen; a beautiful, undemanding baby. From the moment master angrily tossed the placenta he felt cheated, even betrayed. He grimaced as it peaceably took to its mother’s breast, despite the surrounding horrors. Master hated it, immediately and entirely. The ****** thing was so docile it was almost charming. He drew his knife and was just reaching down, when an overwhelming sense of dread shook him like a rat in the jaws of a mastiff. Sweat poured down his squat, pig-tailed nape. He knew he would live to regret it, but decided to not cut the child’s throat right away. It was the oddest feeling. His knife hand had trembled for the first time in his life, and he had found himself momentarily contemplating right and wrong at the outset of a perfectly simple and commonplace procedure. That was it, then. His business instincts were letting him know there was a good, albeit unknowable, reason to let the sweet baby live. Master left the carriage anxiously, muttering in his ambivalence.
The boy grew to embody his worst expectations. Not only was it a poorly oriented child, clinging to its father rather than its master almost from the moment of weaning, but it soon proved a lousy draw with the patrons. Those who paid to view the child dangling in its special cage inevitably departed unsatisfied, some vocalizing, strangely, an acute sense of shame. So once again master entered the carriage with his knife hand steady, and once again he exited trembling, his heart in his throat and his soul in a whirl. He whipped the dwarf savagely before leaving. What place conscience in the mind of a businessman?
Soon as the boy could walk, master put him to work fetching and feeding. But the brat was slothful in his chores, preferring to hang around his family’s cage while staring wistfully at his father. For their part, the parents were wholly disinterested. Master would fume while Hero gazed for hours out his peephole—even as the mother lolled, perpetually ill. Sometimes that accursed woman’s condition riled poor master to no end. She could teeter at death’s door for months at a time, her body changing hues to the fascination of customers, only to bounce back with a hardiness that was of interest to no one. But at the peak of her performances the blue lady could really hold a crowd. Master produced an entire outdoors extravaganza around her:  within concentric rings of raging torches his men would slowly strip her naked before wild audiences, then allow the dwarf and albino to take her while the leopard strained against a gaily festooned chain. Master circulated his crew through the crowds to encourage his patrons’ cult-like behavior of breath-holding and fainting. No getting around it:  the customers were crazy about her—village to village, master’s Bactrian vanguard’s colorful robes shouted her approaching fame. And Hero’s popularity continued to soar. Many were the nights when master, pacing the perimeter, wondered just what devilry could have produced the lovely boy.
Overall, Hero remained his master’s favorite conceit and hottest property. Part of the little brute’s appeal was, of course, his exoticness. And certainly the ugliness arising from his deformity was compelling…but there was a detachedness about him that fascinated every soul with a fistful of copper cash coins. Whether they ****** him, cudgeled him, or spat in his face, he remained unflappable, staring only at the aching sky. Though many would leave uneasy, master noted with deep satisfaction that they almost invariably returned.
The boy soon evinced an amazing affinity for animals. No matter how agitated an ox or horse became, the child could pacify it with one hand on a lowered brow. This was a source of endless fascination for the crew. Wagers were made. The boy was pitted against oxen whipped to a frenzy. But they would not harm him; they would rather go prostrate and take the lash. Master tried to work this knack into a viable act, but his patrons just weren’t buying. They wanted freaks.
When the lad was a mere five years old, master had him trained in the peripheral art of the pickpocket. The boy worked well alone, and had all the makings of a fine little flimflam artist. Master sighed, his chronic nightmares a thing of the past. As ever, his business instincts were guiding him well.
Then late one afternoon he found the boy squatting outside his parents’ cage. The boy had done the unthinkable:  he had deposited his day’s pickings at the feet of his father instead of bringing the ***** to master. Master flew into a rage and raised his whip to give the little traitor the lashing he deserved. But before he could deliver a single stroke his other hand shot to his chest and he staggered back against the albino’s cage. He blinked down at the boy, who regarded him steadily while scooping the plunder into a little pile.
From that day on the boy placed whatever he could get his hands on at his father’s feet. As time passed he became ever more adroit at thievery, growing into a youngster both admired and despised by master and his crew; admired because theft was a cinch for him, despised because they were all that much lighter in their possessions.
Now, for eleven long years the strange little train had bounced along, sometimes camping outside villages for months, occasionally pausing on connecting roads. The show traversed the heart of Manchuria, skirted the Gobi in the north, and so eventually crossed almost the entire width of Mongolia before proceeding north to the confluence of the rivers Yenisey and Ob’. Much silver and copper had come to master’s coffer, much fame to his name, but he now sat looking over a vast, unmapped Siberian wilderness. The mostly nomadic characters they’d been encountering spoke in tongues unfamiliar even to his personal valet-translator-accountant, and the tone of these nomads had been unmistakably hostile.
Master huddled surlily under a canopy of sopping hides. Night was falling hard during a merciless rain, the wind was picking up, and his supplies coach was bogged in a growing sea of mud. At that moment he accepted the whole end-of-the-line concept, and knew he wasn’t going anywhere but back. And when he got back he was going to shine! He jumped from the coach.
The earth took his weight for a heartbeat—and he was up to his chin in muck, splashing about on his hands and knees, sliding forward on his palms and toes. He did a belly flop into a rain-filled depression and churned to his feet with the devil in his eyes. Wallowing in mud and bile, master stomped to the supplies coach and kicked wildly at the stuck rear wheels.
Somewhere between kicks he lost it completely.
Master broke for his whip. One minute he was blindly lashing his men, the next he’d succumbed to a mindless ferocity. He thrashed about like a berserker; whipping the beasts, the coach, the very night. His men were scarcely able to move in all that mud, but their dread of his savagery kept them hopping. They gathered as one and shoved the coach recklessly; slipping, splashing, shouting. A minute later, three lay splayed underfoot, but the mired wheel had been freed.
Throughout all this the oxen had swayed nervously, while the horses softly tramped their hooves in place. Master had his men turn the oxen about until the rickety train was pointing dead east. He checked the hitches and personally applied the lash. The oxen didn’t budge. Master swore and wiped the rain from his eyes. He had the horses hitched ahead of the oxen, but they were even less obliging. Master flew into a spectacular rage. His men, fearing for their lives, ran liberally with the lash.
The swaying of oxen picked up until the entire train of carriages was rocking. Yet the oxen could not, would not be compelled, under any amount of prodding, to take an eastward step. Master looked around in exasperation.
The night had gone insane.
Horses were fighting hitches, oxen walking on fire.
Master cursed the rain and mud and lashed all the harder. His men, seeking to please, whipped maniacally until the horses and both lead oxen broke their hitches and bolted west. The men immediately embraced the rear oxen, but the hitches shattered and the beasts stormed off. The remaining horses blew it, kicking at everything and nothing.
Inside the long carriage all was chaos. The albino was neighing and screaming, the aged leopard spinning in its cage. Hero stared out his peephole, amazed at the blur of figures stumbling by in the rain.
A pair of clopping blows rattled the opposite wall. Three slats cracked. A tremendous impact, and a huge section collapsed. A thrashing, hysterical mare burst through the breach in a veil of rain.
The horse went mad, killing the albino and snake woman in a flurry of hooves. She fell ******* the near wall, crushing the cages. The leopard shot into the air like a rocket, slashed at the mare’s throat and vanished in the rain. The horse reared above the family cage. She was just coming down in a wheeling storm of hooves when something made her freeze. Her stare locked with Hero’s, and a second later her eyes were rolling in their sockets. The mare kicked crazily and came down ******* her left flank, smashing the long cage’s side. She whirled upright and leaped outside.
For a tense minute the family sat in the rubble, rain bombarding their eyes. Nothing in their years of captivity had prepared them for such a situation. But by the end of that minute the son had taken full command. He rolled onto his back, braced himself, and kicked his parents across the aisle, through the remnants of the opposing cage, and out of the carriage. They all fell about in the mud and rain. To the west, the mare stared back strangely as she splashed into the night. The boy wedged himself between his parents, threw his arms around them, and pushed with all his might. Their bodies found a common center of gravity. Fumbling drunkenly, the family staggered through the rain in the wake of the mare.

The boy was the natural leader.
Master’s innocent-looking little ex-student could quickly assess and exploit almost any situation. He did the foraging and the figuring, slept with one eye open and one fist ready. He got what he wanted by charm or by stealth, slipping off at nightfall, returning at daybreak with small slaughtered animals and chunks of dark peasant bread. He also pilfered any bauble or oddity he could get his paws on, to be placed reverently at his father’s mangled feet. Breadwinner and watchdog, he faithfully held the family together; a nuclear son. He sewed hardy feather-lined cloaks of reindeer hide, and turned a cache of marmot pelts into a kind of side-slung backpack. He was doting nurse during his mother’s episodes, and unbending apportioner of calories in lean times. Dauntless when it meant crossing mighty rivers, relentless when it came to finding mountain passes. But the endless marching, the unreliable diet, and the countless predators made the three wanderers lean, haggard moving targets. There were times when the little lamp of family was all but extinguished, and long stands in places that seemed absolutely impassable. Still, the boy would work things out. He would stoop to any level to feed Hero, and for a stranger to threaten his father was to summon a psychotic, unyielding monster. He was both spear and shield.
The toughest job of all was maintaining a tight unit, meaning he was forced to become a hard-nosed ******* whenever his father was ready to wander off, which always seemed to be whenever the mother was hurting most. She’d become a tremendous impediment to Hero’s compulsion, and therefore her son’s chief nemesis. It wasn’t a big-picture concern anyway; the writing was on the wall. The blue lady’s attacks were increasing spectacularly on the steppe; her world had always been an enclosure of some kind, and the great horizon was proving just too much. Perhaps these intense affairs served as links to Hero’s suppressed memories, for at the onset of each attack he’d turn and hike, and then only exhaustion could curb him. The boy would press his mother on, dragging, shoving, and smacking—he could be mean when necessary, and though circumstances had made him the nucleus, their worlds unquestionably revolved around Hero. Where he sat, they sat. When he rose, they did the same. In this manner they marched for years across the vast steppes, single-file—father, mother, and son, respectively—unmolested, lacking possessions, always following the sun. Long before they could be measured they had drifted into obscurity.
The woman’s end came quickly and dramatically, in a rocky little depression on a half-frozen field. One moment she was responsive to her son’s prompts, the next she was flat on her back, her eyelids fluttering. That night she leapt from fever to chill, from alertness to stupor. The boy, squatting beside their campfire, watched her face and hands run cadaver-blue to fish belly-pale and back again. While he was staring her eyes popped open and her hands came scrabbling. He sweated through the clawing embrace until he could bear it no longer. He oozed out and ran down to fetch his father.
When they got back Hero watched incuriously for a while. His mate’s face was scrunched up and her skin the color of sapphires. She wasn’t breathing.
His gaze became glassy, his eyes returned to the night. As he rose the boy immediately grabbed an arm. Neither moved for minutes. When the boy at last relinquished, his father casually stumbled off.
Strange things were going on in Hero’s world. Some days he would notice how animals regarded him oddly, in a manner that seemed almost personal. He found, for instance, that particular creatures were recognizable even over great distances. A number of times he would sit with one in a stare-down, waiting patiently, until the animal’s natural disposition caused it to bolt. Though the meaning of these encounters was way over his head, he would watch, and he would listen.
In time he noticed an increasing skittishness in some of these familiar creatures. Something had them spooked. He then observed a number of lean gray wolves moving in and out of the picture with an air of complete indifference:  these wolves weren’t hunting; they were loitering—lounging in the grass, lackadaisically padding to the rear, filing by slowly in the distance. Once in a while a lounger would raise its head, yawn cavernously, and drop back out of sight. So unobtrusive was their behavior that even Hero’s ever-vigilant son began to take them for granted. They paused where the family paused, and halted whenever the woman broke down. Perfectly camouflaged by the gray boulders and dire sky, they were completely forgotten in the drama of her passing.
There were other, far subtler events existing for Hero’s senses alone. He could perceive patterns in everything around him; in the manner vegetation gave way wherever his heart was leading, in the way so many animals appeared to be not merely mirroring, but making his course. And wind, rain, running water:  these phenomena had voices. Yet not for everybody. No one—not his mate, not his son, not another soul on the planet could hear this call, for they were all of a sort. They were static, they were temporal. Hero couldn’t have cared less about the lives of his family, or about the mundane goings-on in the encampments and small tribes they skirted. Such beings lived in a world that was defined by the moment. They shouted, they banged, they clamored.
But west—west was music.
For his boy, once again watching Hero shamble off, the moment of truth had arrived. He looked back down, at his mother’s death mask being remade by the dying light of their campfire. As the flames dwindled he could have sworn he saw shadows creep into the wells of her eyes, while others, crawling up around her jawline, drew her bluing lips like purse strings. He hopped to his feet and ran for another handful of tinder. When their little fire provided enough light he dropped to his knees and looked again.
She was sinking right before his eyes, every aspect of her expression in collapse. The boy watched clinically, fascinated. As the flames began to sputter he thought he could see large purple bruises spreading across her cheeks like the seeping limbs of overflowing pools. He bent closer.
From deep in the night came the longest, the leanest, the saddest wail he’d ever heard. He turned to see the starlit ghost of his father, facing away, staring at a low barren hill. Uncountable stars embroidered the spot. The boy made out a low shape moving along the hilltop, cutting off patches of stars as it passed.
The wolf howled again; a mournful, spiraling cry to nowhere and nothing. Hero’s head notched upward. He began to hike.
Halfway to his feet the boy stopped dead.
It took a minute to sense why he’d frozen in place, and a good while longer for his heart to quit pounding. He was aware of a nervous padding, and, once his vision had adjusted, of a lazy stream of eyes gleaming in the dying campfire’s light. The eyes bobbed around him, glared momentarily, returned to the ground.
A massive gasp, and his mother was tearing at his wrist. He watched her hyperventilating, saw her bulbous yellow eyes sinking in a wide violet pool. With a sizzle and pop the last tongue of flame was taken by the night.
Then her clammy hands were all over him, pulling and demanding, caressing and beseeching. He had to pry them off like leeches, had to place them clasped on her shuddering arched belly.
A silky snarl rose almost in his ear.
With a little squeal he sprang to his feet, even as something nearby jumped back in response.
The boy stood absolutely still while the panting thing padded nearer. They stood very close, smelling each other. He instinctively extended a hand, palm forward. But it was no good; his arm was shaking out of control. The snarl rose again, not so tentatively this time. His mother’s nails tore at his ankle.
The boy gently stepped away, only to find himself surrounded by the shifting silhouettes of half a dozen gray wolves. They approached in a calculated manner:  two from the left, one from the right, another from behind. He was being goaded away from his mother; he could hear her fists beating the ground, and a few seconds later the sounds of a nauseating assault and ravaging.
He shakily raised his other hand. Now both arms were extended, and their message was clearly one of defense rather than control. Two snapping wolves stepped aside, leaving him a gateway into the night. A cold wet nose bumped his wrist.
Screaming like a woman, he took off after his father just as fast as his feet would carry him.

                                                  BOY

Alon­g the great Kazakh Steppe a man could wander a lifetime and never meet another of his kind—especially if his kind happened to be Alaskan Inuk, and if he happened to be the teenaged patriarch of a two-man family going nowhere.
Here history is mostly mute.
Upon this continent-spanning steppe, unnamed communities were scattered and rebuilt, lives blown about by the wind. The only centers of humanity a traveler might encounter, far removed from the Silk Road at the very crack of the new millennium, were temporary encampments of civilization at its rudest—shifting holes of cutthroat commerce existing solely for the barter of silk and spices and hapless souls. Life here was revered far less than merchandise, and the longest-lived men were those who kept their distance.
Hero and his boy hiked over permafrost and tundra for years; their meandering course a drunken mapmaker’s scrawl. Chronological entries along this imaginary line would reveal that they’d stopped, sometimes for months at a time, when the father had grown too weak and disoriented to continue. Hero’s internal compass was long-sprung, and his weight had fallen considerably. He’d sit on his lonesome, scarecrow-scrawny, wistfully scrolling a 360-horizon while his boy scouted and scavenged. Then, for no apparent reason, he’d just up-and hike—sometimes northwest, sometimes along a tangential plane that always threatened to spiral. It was brutal:  winters were frigid, summers, by odd contrast, running steamy to baking. Season by season these marches lost their tenaciousness, and eventually their heart. Hero’s obsession was becoming his demise.
Now, to a hypothetical observer, the ratty pair of woolly camels materializing out of the rising August heat might have been mirages.
These beasts were novelties here, and pioneers, for they were way beyond their normal stomping grounds. They’d tramped for months with a mind-numbing monotonousness, a thousand miles and more; round the Urals to the south, and through the hard territory braced by the Volga and Voronezh, avoiding anything that even smelled of men. They’d been wild camels; ugly, ill-tempered, and unpredictable, until the boy tamed them by touch…but this new pattern was a literal change of pace…for weeks the frail little man and his dark teenaged son rose and fell with the animals’ rhythm, lulled by it, sick of it, dreaming of lands far removed from hoarfrost and peat moss. In this manner they were borne clear to present-day Belarus, whereupon the camels’ stupefying march began to quicken. Mile by mile they put on steam, until one day they reached a broad area distinguishable from its bracing terrain only by its many deep surface cracks. Here the camels’ behavior became erratic; they crouched at an angle while tramping, their long necks oscillating, their noses bobbing along the ground. Eventually they came upon a dingy pool nestled in a pebbly depression. The local brush surrounding this pool was situated like iron filings about a lodestone. The boy hauled back his camel’s neck and laid a hand on its brow. The brute slowed to a halt. The other camel imitated its partner, move for move. Simultaneously the animals dropped to their knees.
The boy jumped off, catching Hero as he fell. The camels stood watching stupidly as son maneuvered father, but after a while grew nervous and began tramping their hooves in time. They slowly stepped to the pool’s rim and knelt woozily, their noses poised just above the surface. Their whiskers danced on the pool’s face, their lids became heavy, their hindquarters quivered as they drank. Their nostrils, having fluttered in unison, remained agape. They appeared to be asleep.
The boy began filling skins.
The water was quite warm; he slurped a palmful and almost immediately felt intoxicated.
He flicked it off his fingers; the water was bad.
Three heads were now mirrored in the pool; the camels’ at ten o’clock and two o’clock, the boy’s at six. He watched their reflections continue to ripple, long after the pool had become still. His face, melting and firming, rapidly fluctuated between extremes of age, and between his own recognizable features and those of some…monstrosity. The effect was hypnotic. He felt his joints stiffen; his eyes became weak, his thoughts muddled…his face was irresistibly drawn to the pool’s surface, and for a moment he was in real peril of drowning. He ****** his head aside and creaked to his feet.
Where the camels had knelt were only the prints of their bellies and knees. In the distance they could be seen galloping all-out for the horizon, right back the way they’d come. The boy watched until they were swallowed by their dust, and when he turned around his father was long gone.
Now he knew it was all just a matter of time.
And sure enough, after eleven more days of feebly staggering along, Hero completely ran out of gas. The boy bundled him up in a shawl, like an old woman.
Sitting there, cradling an unresponsive man weighing less than eighty pounds, he couldn’t help but let his morbid fantasies run wild. He was now old enough to realize his father had at some time suffered severe head trauma, and honest enough to accept that the man was rapidly approaching a vegetative state. This understanding accompanied him like a shadow, and that night he questioned, for the very first time, his own convoluted rationale.
He was just beginning to sense that his will was not his own.
He built a semi-permanent camp west of the Desna and foraged in a tight spiral, always returning in a straight line. Some days he came back feeling uneasy, sensing another presence. Then it was every other day. It bugged him to no end. At last, when it became every day, he hauled his father to his feet and began a resolute march to the west.
Again he became anxious, and after only a dozen yards.
He turned slowly while hunching, certain something bulky had just dropped out of sight. Nothing looked suspicious, everything looked suspicious. He walked Hero some more, occasionally peering back over his shoulder. There was…something.
He whirled:  only masses of rock and high brush. Yet, when he really strained his eyes, he was sure, pretty sure, that he could make out a large crouching body continuous with the rocks. Heart in his throat, he began a slow steady creep, only to pause, positive the bulge, whatever it was, had shifted in response. The boy very gradually raised his arm until it was level with his eyes, faced the palm outward, and extended the arm parallel with the ground. He could almost feel some kind of current passing between his itching palm and…nothing. He walked over to Hero, stopped again. There’d been the subtlest sense of traction. The boy propped up his father in a cloud of flies and waited.
In a minute the bulge drew *****.
Out of the brush strolled a furry gray wild ***, her back inclined from countless weary miles; stretching her neck, pausing to nibble, taking her sweet time. Grungy as she was, she fit right in.
At the boy’s first casual step she immediately hit the dirt and remained flat on her belly, one big dark eye staring between her hooves. Another step, and her **** bunched up. The closer he got, the higher her rear end rose. When he was almost at arm’s length she sprang back and danced away, seeming to bound with delight. But not to the east, as she’d come.
To the northwest.
She backpedaled while the boy came on whistling and cooing, matching him step for step. But the moment he threw up his arms in resignation she spun round as though cued, dropped on her belly, and peered over her shoulder.
The boy was first to blink. This time he approached fractionally, keeping movements to a minimum. She rose just as carefully, sauntering northwest in reverse, and at the first sign of hesitation turned, dropped, and cautiously gazed back. The boy glared at that huge mocking **** and broke into a sprint. She easily danced out of reach, plopped down, and continued to stare.
He began hurling stones, with venom and with accuracy, until she’d scurried into the brush.
But on the way back to his father he could feel her tagging along.
Twenty feet behind she halted, looking bemused.
The boy nodded ironically. He walked Hero over, murmuring baby talk all the way, and firmly placed a palm on the animal’s muzzle once her breath grazed his fingers. She stroked his hand up and down with her whiskers, gave a kind of curtsy, and waited on her knees while he helped his father mount.
At Hero’s touch a shudder ran down her body. She stood up straight. Her eyes became set, her back absolutely stiff. She put down her head and began the long trek northwest, never once breaking stride.
It was an amazing march, an impossible feat. For a little over three days and almost four hundred miles she progressed like an automaton, driving herself without rest, without food or water.
After trotting alongside for an hour the boy climbed on and force-fed his father berries and smoked meat, his dark eyes constantly searching the countryside. Occasionally he’d see a run of red foxes to their left, watching intently, padding cautiously. Sooner or later they’d vanish, only to be replaced by a train of feline or equine pursuers. Packs approached and receded while, high overhead, flocks formed triangular patterns that continually broke up and reformed. There was a peculiar rhythmic quality to this ebb and flow that lulled his senses further. The boy shook his head to clear it, but his exhaustion was deeper than he’d supposed—even the brush appeared to be leaning northwest.
That first day he grew numb with the pace, and that night the relentless pounding of her hooves drew him into a miserable slumber. He wrapped his arms around his sleeping father and lay half atop. When he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer he tore strips from his skins, then looped his tied wrists round her neck, his ankles round her belly.
On the second day she was breathing hard, but her back was still high and she showed no signs of faltering. Her eyes remained focused on the ground dead ahead. She always sensed the best routes; finding mountain passes, fording wetlands.
But by the third day they could feel her ribs quaking against their legs. Her breath exploded as she marched, blood frothed and caked about her nostrils. Still she pushed herself on, her pace so steady it was almost metronomic.
On the fourth day her legs were gone. She veered and stumbled, shuddering every few paces. The boy hopped off for the umpteenth time and tried to bring her to graze, but she wouldn’t be turned. He ran behind her as she staggered along, unwilling, or unable, to rest.
At last a foreleg gave and she went down hard. Sobbing and snorting, she plowed her muzzle back and forth in the soil, the useless leg repeatedly pounding the ground. After a minute she raised her head and brayed at the sky, her neck muscles taut, her head slowly swinging side to side. Her cry went on and on.
With a tremendous effort she pushed herself upright and butted the boy aside. Every part of her body was shaking. From her depths a low moan grew to a steady bray, and finally to a wild, pulsing howl. She came to a rise, but was too weak to climb without sliding. Stamping in frustration, she managed a few feet, reared feebly, slid some more. The boy got behind her and applied his back; it took all he had to assist her almost to the top. With a desperate lunge she crashed on her belly.
Amazingly, she dragged herself on, her howl now a scream, her head whipping left and right. When she could pull herself no farther she ****** forth her neck to its very limit and, with a shudder that ran from the tip of her nose to the tuft on her tail, shoved her muzzle straight into the dirt and died.
The boy hauled off his father and fell back. The animal’s eyes were fixed upwards, seeming, even in death, to be straining for a glimpse of what lay just beyond the rise. The boy half-dragged Hero the last few yards. They collapsed at the top, and together looked over the cold Baltic Sea.

At water’s edge a haggard fisherman sat on his boat’s ravaged deck, blindly staring out to sea. His was a queer vessel; a family structure built more like an aft-cabined barge than like seacraft typical of that period. The fisherman’s boat, like his mind, had been abused beyond repair.
He’d lost much in his life. Time had taken his dreams, pox his face, hardship his back and shoulders. And, more recently, a brawling band of drunken Baltic pirates had ***** his wife and daughter before butchering them along with his two fine sons, while he sat helplessly bound to the mast. Finally, to further their delight, they’d set the boat aflame and sent it crackling against the sun; knowing he could hear their hoots and howls, knowing he would drift undead, accompanied only by this last unspeakable memory.
But a squall, without prelude, had doused the flames and blown his home ashore.
There he’d remained for a full long day, staring at nothing, his shattered life caught on the rocks. On the second day he’d worked himself free and commenced staggering about in his memories, gathering shards. It was a pathetic claim. He made a pile of all the old bedding and linen and usable cords, and set about sewing a sort of mementos sail. All that third day he had sewn, and on the fourth he had hoisted this sail and been moved to see it billowing in a northwest-blowing breeze. Again he just sat and gaped. And later that day he’d become aware of a commotion taking place on the long grade leading down to the water, where a writhing mass of seagulls was proceeding like a tremendous slow-motion snowball. He’d never seen anything like it. It wasn’t uncommon to find gulls in a group of many dozens or more, but there must have been two, maybe three thousand of the birds now swarming toward his boat. They were making an incredible racket. In the midst of this cloud could be seen a couple of slowly walking figures; as they neared he made out a small man accompanying a boy in his late teens, both dressed in odd skins. When they reached the rocks his eyes were drawn to the small man’s face. It was a foreign face, brutish and dark, with a deep cleft running from above the right temple to the jaw’s left side. Whatever instrument had felled this man had been devastating—everything in its path was smashed, and with permanence. The forehead was caved in. There was no bridge to the nose, the left cheek was completely collapsed, one side of the mouth was a mangled mess. The jaw itself had set improperly, so that it jutted to the side. The general impression, especially from a distance, was of some unforgettable circus freak’s countenance puckering at an angle. It was a face right out of a nightmare. But there was nothing frightening about the eyes. They were the eyes of a child.
Maybe half the gulls hopped screaming on the rocks. The rest circled overhead.
The boy considered the fisherman curiously before placing a foot on the charred deck. His gaze went around the boat, lingered on the makeshift sail, returned to the slumped figure. He passed a hand before the eyes. No response. He then leaned in close and placed his fingers on the man’s forehead. Immediately that bleak expression became fluid, brimming over with horror and heartbreak. Tears rolled down the fisherman’s cheeks as he gasped, shuddered, and backed up the scorched mast to his feet. Thus propped, he squinted at his visitors and was overcome by a wave of homesickness so strong he had to turn away. The feeling bewildered him, for this vessel, and this sea, were all the home he’d ever known. He clung to the mast while the boy helped his father board. Once he’d collected himself, the fisherman tore a heavy crossbeam from the toasted cabin. He and the boy used this as a lever, and together they shoved the boat off the rocks. The wind picked up nicely, and the little craft was swept across the water.
Exploding off the rocks, the gulls shot after the boat as if it were brimming with fish, the loudest and orneriest vying for favored positions directly overhead. The melee attracted additional gulls—they came shrieking in their hundreds from all sides, banking and calling in the oddest manner, until the mass grew so thick as to cast a permanent shadow on the boat. All day long the clamor continued, and all that night. The fisherman rolled with the rudder, listlessly, allowing the sea to control him. Eventually he let go, that the wind might bear them where it would. His sail ballooned but held firm, and the boat fairly zipped across a sea somehow smooth as glass, broken only by the vacillating ripples of bottleneck dolphins and migrating humpback whales. The three tiny sailors sat hunched together, motionless, all throughout the next day, until the black coast of Sweden loomed in the twilight.
As the boat neared land the cloud of gulls broke up, shot to shore, and landed in groups of a thousand and more; a dizzying, wildly uproarious reception committee.
The dung-covered boat slammed into the rocks, shattering the fisherman’s trance. He intuitively walked his **** up the mast and, swaying there, watched the boy draw his father over the side and lead him to a clearing at wood’s edge. There in the dusk he made out what appeared to be a hefty spotted runaway heifer hitched to a rickety wood wagon. He saw the cow gallop up to meet them, saw the boy look around warily, saw him help the little man into the wagon and climb in beside him. The animal immediately began picking through the woods, the large brass bell round her neck clanging forlornly.
The clarity of that bell made him realize just how quiet it had become. He craned his neck:  there wasn’t a gull in sight. He fell back against the shot mast and slid onto his tailbone with a clacking of teeth. His eyes were misting up. In the gathering dark a few sail fragments flew past and were ****** into the woods. The boat rocked and relaxed. After that there was only the sound of the receding bell’s sad, monotonous song being batted about by the wind.

The little cow strode through moonlit woods until she came to a path formed by the rutting of wheels over many years. She followed this broken, serpentine track throughout the night, and by morning was passing farms and, occasionally, crossing broader paths that might realistically be defined as roads. All day long she bore down that ragged track, until she came in late afternoon to a clearing near a village. Here many such tracks converged. And here the boy slipped away while she grazed.
Sometime after dark he returned with a load of straw, a couple of pilfered blankets, and a fat iron kettle. Crammed in this kettle were salt, tubers, cheese, a few loaves of rye, legumes, and a plump foot of lamb sausage. Most of this ***** he’d brought in tied to the bowed back of a huge, puffing, highly amenable black pig which, thus laden, now followed the boy’s every step like a fresh convert tracing the heels of the messiah. The boy built a fire under the stars, filled the kettle with creek water, and commenced simmering their dinner. While waiting, he couldn’t help but note an odd feature of the local flora:  plants, especially trees, all seemed inclined to a northwesterly disposition, though no amount of wind could account for it. He shooed the pig. But rather than run along, it backpedaled in a nervous circle, round and round in reverse, until it lost its balance and fell on its ****. There it remained, a yard behind the wagon. The boy fed his father and lined the wagon with straw. They settled in for the night. The boy must have nodded, might have dreamt, but while he was drifting he became aware of a stirring in the woods. He sat up, saw the pig’s eyes gleaming inches from his nose. And there were a number of animals, some wild, some strayed from farmsteads, arranged in a broad circle around the wagon, their eyes glinting with moonlight. Not a rustle, not a peep, was lifted from the woods.
In the morning he woke to find the pig still staring. The fidgeting heifer, impatient to roll, began her long day’s march while Hero and his boy were yet stretching and scratching, and the ******* pig, galloping heavily, fell in close behind. Each new day this routine was repeated. They banged past farms and small communities until the ruts intersected a broad rocky road wending halfway across the kingdom. The cow addressed this road with vigor. They picked up followers—a goat here, a couple of sheep there—which hurried after the wagon as best they could. The cow stomped on with resolve, mile after mile, day after day, her bell keeping steady time. That bell’s peal attracted foals, lambs, and kids into the wagon’s narrowing wake. Hares hopped between hooves and wheels, boars and blue foxes fell in and withdrew. White falcons, normally solo fliers, whirled into wedge shapes high overhead.
At night the entire train would camp on the road while the boy raided proximate farmsteads, always returning fully laden. And as soon as the fire died the colony grew, creature by creature, and the moment the sun broke the horizon the heifer came to life and moved on, but each day a bit more resolutely, as though straining to meet a deadline. The march took on a sense of real urgency. The cow pressed on with attitude, the clang of her bell more strident with each passing mile. Soon her followers numbered in the hundreds, as animals deserted their farms or crept out of the woods to tag along. Tillers and traders stood dumbfounded, amazed by the bizarre flow.
Once they’d crossed into Norway the frothing cow veered hard to the west. The pace really picked up; no longer were Hero and his boy afforded the luxury of a night’s sleep in one spot. Days blurred into a single variegated flow as the bashed and lopsided wagon continued building its entourage; the riders were surrounded dawn to dusk by a confused and confusing scurry. Word of the flow’s weirdness preceded it clear to the Norwegian coast, so that now plowmen and merchants, wearily gathering their goggling families, found themselves lined in anticipation along the king’s highway. Horsemen went pounding to and fro with news of the procession’s progress and particulars, children ran through the streets banging pots in imitation of the cow’s approaching bell. Livestock wheeled and stamped, fowl leaped and crashed.
The slobbering cow broke into a run.
Bystanders trotted behind, calling back and forth excitedly, while the wagon’s permanent following squealed and squawked between their heels. The cow made a hard turn onto a widening swath in the brush. This swath, seeming to strain against the soil, ran straight down to the crest of a low hill overlooking the Atlantic. On either side a crowd had been studying the phenomenon for some time, but now all eyes swung to the dark and disfigured man and his son, clinging to the disintegrating wagon behind the careening spotted cow.
The trailing people traded views as they ran. Most—at the very outset of the new millennium, with Christianity burgeoning throughout Europe—leaned to the miraculous. Others, just as superstitious but prone to a darker point of view, threw looks of horror at the deformed little man. Yet they ran no less eagerly.
The galloping crowd made for the seaside, where only one local event of any moment was brewing:  on the coast a Greenlander Viking was preparing his longship for the rough voyage home. Impetuous son of the great island’s first permanent European settler, he’d just been baptized in Olaf’s court, and was now eager to sail—but not as a warrior—as a missionary. While his spirit remained in a tug-o’-war between his father Erik’s will and that of gods old and new, his duty was clearly to his king. And Olaf had charged him with the Christianization of pagan Greenland.
Something on the wind now made this destined man turn his head. From behind the gentle hill to his rear came a kind of thunder. Heads popped up, followed by a confused explosion of voices, and seconds later a frantic bug-eyed heifer burst into view, dragging the wheel-less skeleton of a shattered wooden wagon. On the wagon’s splayed frame a man and teenaged boy clung for their lives as the spewing animal made a beeline for his ship.
The new missionary, still egocentric enough to assume his Maker might actually toss him a personal, surreptitiously rolled up his eyes. The sky yawned at his arrogance. At his side a smallish cowled man rose irritably, but the missionary sat him right back down. He then snorted, squared his shoulders, and signaled his men to halt their preparations.
Knowing it was expected, he gathered his hard Nordic pride and coolly made his way into the crowd.

The priest clung to port, gagging above the waves.
After a completely uneventful minute he leaned back and stared through tearing eyes at the distant backdrop of gathering mists. Weeks now…a man of his constitution had no business at sea.
Along, too, were a quirky little man and his fiercely devoted son.
Through his pantomime, the boy had been so persistent in begging their passage that refusal, under the circumstances, would have been unbecoming not only a man of God but a man of the world.
So there it was:  a priest who couldn’t hold his lunch, a witless eyesore who couldn’t sit still, and a surly teenaged protector who snarled at the first hard look. This crossing just had to be some kind of divine test—of mortal patience as well as moral values. Norsemen weren’t made for babysitting.
The mists condensed.
And the shifting shape became a hard familiar coast.
And the longship was mooring, and the crew were jostling and clambering, and the big missionary had booted off the haunted little freak and his hypersensitive son, and was condescendingly half-escorting, half-carrying, the green priest ashore.
And they were home.

Priest in tow, Leif quickly took up the Christianization of Greenland’s Western Settlement, as per Olaf’s command. The mangled little man and his son followed him around like dogs, slept outside his door and annoyed his visitors, ultimately proving far easier to adopt than to shake. Barely tolerable shadows…still, the lad was simply amazing with livestock…and though the youth’s useless father seemed time and again to be just begging for a whooping, his son’s presence bore some ineffable quality that always curbed the missionary’s hand. Several times he’d witnessed the father approached by settlers bent on abuse. Each time the boy had stepped in, and each time the troublemakers were mysteriously repelled. The missionary of course didn’t attribute any kind of celestial intervention to these episodes, and certainly the popular notion of devilry was a natural reaction to the pair’s outrageous exoticness, but…in the son’s company, and even under the sharp eyes of his fellow Norsemen, Leif more than once found himself oddly moved to protect the father. And so the deformed man and his boy day by day blent in—as village idiot and mystic guide. And when in time a ****** brought tales of an unvisited land to the west, it was only natural for the restless Greenlander to buy that ******’s boat and, before stalwart comrades, weary family, and whimsical God Almighty, reluctantly accept the eccentric father and son as sort of seagoing mascots.
Hero was from then on irrepressible. During preparations he would pipe and stammer in his half-mute way, brimming with a confounding anxiety that kept him underfoot and at odds with all. On frigid nights he perched on the westernmost rocks, moaning to the horizon in the strangest fashion while his son stood guard. He positively spooked the locals; they’d gossip, nervously and with bile, of an answering wind that came wailing off the sea like a banshee in labor. The whole island wanted rid of him. And when his champing beneficiary, still clinging to the notion of Christian charity, bundled him aboard with his son and a crew of thirty-five, not a single settler was sorry to see him go.
Almost from the moment they cast off everything went wrong, as all attempts to control the longship were met with some kind of unknowable countermanding force. Vikings were not renowned for passive resistance—they fought, squaresail and steering oar, leaning oarsman to oarsman, until the ship rocked on the waves like a bucking bronco. An erratic weather system pursued them, worsening dramatically at each minute variation in heading. The Norsemen doubled down, and when the clouds finally burst wide, the cowling sea went mad. Dervishes whirled about the hull, crisscrossing winds bedeviled the sail. Patches of kelp belonging to much warmer waters came heaving alongside, fouling the work of the oars, while far to the west a humongous fog bank formed, eradicating the navigable field. The lightning-streaked horizon was a throbbing gray slit.
The longship became locked in a slow westerly current.
Fatigued crewmen complained of headaches and hallucinations, and of a nasty, slightly metallic tang to the air. There were numerous walrus sightings; bobbing flippers and snouts amid drifting ice chunks that came prowling the North Sea like a circling pack of famished white wolves.
Worst of all was the boy’s father—instantly agitated by everything and nothing, prey to some primitive impulse that caused him to periodically incline his head, shudder to his feet, and loop his arms as though embracing the sky. Leif would watch him scrabbling at the prow like a cat at a tree, furs snapping in the wind. He’d watch the boy re-seat him for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time be filled with an immense contempt. By now he’d acknowledged that it takes a special kind of strength to shoulder charity and tolerance. That brown little freak struck him as an enormous malformed barnacle, slowly working its way back up the prow. Trying so hard to go unnoticed, looking and listening so intently, though there was nothing to see other than the growing shelves of fog, and nothing to hear save the rising, almost hysterical voice of the wind.
Leif sniffed the air, his ******’s instincts nagging him. This was a foul current, and a fool's errand; he took a deep breath and tentatively ordered the longship brought about.
The ship kicked twice, as though an enormous submarine hand had seized and released the hull.
A whirl formed in the water, causing the keeling ship to sweep around like a clock’s second hand. All about them, those drift-ice ghosts cruised dangerously near.
But they’d been liberated from that accursed current. Leif fiercely urged on his rowers, and at last the ship broke free. They made a bead due north.
Night came and the temperature plummeted.
Small sheets of ice converged, drifting between the hunks. The Norsemen, instinctively huddling amidships, passed out one by one in a massive pile of fur and flesh. In the freezing silence the floes bumped and recoiled, bumped and gathered, bumped and bonded. The tiny ship, swallowed whole, was dragged along in a labyrinth of black sea and interlocking slabs of ice.

The Norsemen came to in a surly, foul-smelling heap, lost at sea. While they were still groggy a voice cried out that a darker patch was developing in the fog. The men all fell to port. Under the confusion of their voices could be heard a distant rumble.
At this Hero hauled himself up the high curved prow. A half-light began to penetrate the fog, barely illuminating the irregular faces of drifting ice. The missionary stormed forward and indicated by gestures that if the boy didn’t restrain his father he would have the man tied down.
The longship stopped dead in the water.
The men found themselves regarding a perpetually frozen coastline swathed in bluish veils of mist. Directly before them loomed an immense ice cliff hundreds of feet high. Rising beyond this cliff were endless snow fields, where lean violet shadows seemed to drag about of their own volition. And upon those bleak fields a thin howling wind prowled, kicking up brief white dervishes, leaving a strange zigzagging signature.
Even as they stared, a darker shadow high on the ice cliff’s glistening face began to widen, accompanied by a cracking sound that could be felt before it was heard. With the illusion of slow-motion, a stupendous chunk broke out of the cliff and came screaming toward the sea. It hit the water like a bomb. The thunder of its separation and the explosion of its impact took a moment to reach them. Then, out of a spewing crater of crests and spume, the new calf came lunging, tromping the sea so hard the longship, fully a mile to sea, was swept out and ****** back in like a cork. The floundering mountain of ice bobbed and lilted, generating huge waves which continued to rock the ship long after the monster had settled. In a while the roaring in their ears subsided and there remained only the swirling, nerve-wracking howl of the wind.
The missionary’s eyes swept left and right. Whatever this place was, it sure wasn’t the fair shoreline he’d been promised. Hero again scrambled up the prow, and Leif again yanked him down. This time he made good his threat; he had the little nuisance bound, though he was half-tempted to let him take his chances overboard.
From somewhere deep in the haze grew a soulful, otherworldly call. It went on and on, electrifying the air, bottoming out once the ship had merged with that previously fought westerly flow.
By now Leif’s nerves were shot. He ordered the oars raised.
The longship began to drift. Ship and ice were pulled due west.
The clouds fell far behind as the ship embarked upon an amazingly calm sea—so calm its entire visible surface was featureless except for the faint wakes provided by the ship and its hulking ice companions. To the east a huge fog bank appeared on the horizon, and a while later a smaller bank to the north. Then a very dense one to the south. In time these banks converged, imperceptibly becoming a single mass that closed about the ship, bit by bit creating a slowly heaving dome. Tiny beads of water appeared on beards and eyebrows; in a minute everything was soaked. The only sound was that of the dragging steering oar. The men were now sopping ghosts, speaking only with their eyes.
Directly ahead the fog began to dimple. The dimple became a hollow, the hollow a cave, and then ship and ice were being towed through a low, ever-extending tunnel in fog. The current increased its pull. Ship and drifting ice accelerated through the tunnel.
After a while the missionary quietly stepped forward. He stood with one hand on the prow’s neck, listening to the mist, so motionless he might have been a carved extension of the longship’s aggressive design. Not a man breathed. The tunnel’s dilating and contracting bore was producing an all but seamless series of oscillating, near-phonetic sounds. Leif almost tiptoed back. No god, pagan or Christian, could account for the strangeness of this situation.
They were borne on a course that grew more southerly, and the following day beheld an inhospitable shoreline glazed by dazzling white beaches. Their course held. Two days later they came upon a far pleasanter, thickly wooded coast. Here the current released its hold, and here the missionary untied Hero and personally placed him and his son in a tiny oak faering. He was just as sick of them as he was excited by this promising new land. Once the rowboat had been heaved over the side, he and another man stepped aboard and took up the oars. They began rowing with easy, powerful strokes.
When the boat kissed sand the missionary stood unsteadily.
The first European to set foot on North American soil now placed one hand on his crucifix, the other on his sword’s hilt, and awkwardly plunged his leg into the thigh-deep, ice-cold surf. Before he could take another step the boat lurched as Hero leapt headfirst into the water, followed an instant later by his son. The Greenlanders watched sourly as the two splashed their way into a mad dash for the waiting pines. Leif wished them both good riddance and turned to grin wryly at his fellow Norseman. He must have blacked out for a second, must have been blinded by a shaft of sun, for he found he was staring stupidly at a point midway between his companion and the longship. It felt like he’d been kicked between the eyes.
Everything was dissolving.
He studied the beach and pines closely, but saw nothing of the man or his boy. He turned back, disoriented. With what seemed a superhuman effort he took up his oars. He rowed out sluggishly, in a dream, and the fog rolled in to meet him.

The boy broke into the trees and embraced a trunk, fighting for breath. What happened next happened so fast and so unexpectedly he didn’t have a chance to react.
Three savages stepped from behind the pines and beat him to his knees. They twisted his arms behind his back and hauled him to his feet. He’d barely processed the impression of a wild painted face when something sharp struck him ******* the temple and tore down his cheek to the jaw. Two of the assailants manhandled him into an upright position and held him in place while the third brought his weapon down again and again and again.
All but dead, he watched a nightmare countenance shouting through a shot veil of blood, and behind that image a reeling crimson sun. He lay there gushing while the savages went through his rags. They propped him against a pine and shrieked with triumph, tore the hair and gory scalp from his skull, threw back their heads and screamed at the screaming sky. Tooth and nail, they ripped apart his face and throat and, certain he would die, split what bits of fur were left and let his carcass lie.

                                                HERO

The weeks stretched into months while he fought his way back into the light.
He progressed in stages; only half-conscious, stumbling along in a blood-red stupor punctuated by a slow strobe of frequent blackouts. Days loomed and decayed, nights pounced and were gone; the backlit, swirling gray cosmos collapsed and expanded on every missed beat of his pulse. A thousand times he broke down to die, and a thousand times he clawed to his feet, driven to pursue a tiny, ghost-like figure fluttering in his memory.
Everything conspired to check him.
A bay like an immense landlocked sea was skirted over months or years—it was all the same. Cold locked him in, Hunger drove him afield, that rude ***** Wind lashed him blind, wore him like a shoe, screamed for his skin while he worked his way west.
Somehow he ate, somehow he avoided being eaten; the instincts that had served him halfway around the planet were still vital beneath the abused exterior. His simple burrows became sturdy temporary shelters. He relearned the art of fire, and began to cook what he killed. He manufactured crude snares and weapons and, when his recuperation was complete, paid closer attention to the on-again, off-again trail he’d been following…forever.
Sometimes this trail would call to him like a lover. Other times he stood peering uncertainly, trying to recapture meanings and aims. Then the ground would turn spongy and the sky revolve, and once again he’d be lying all but dead in the woods, while from the face of the sun emerged a vile winged horror, its ugly pale head lashing side to side, its cruelly hooked beak dangling something that glistened in the wild pulsing light…then the fat moon, rising like gas against the icy black night…the feel of the wind:  the slashing of her nails, the chafing of her hem…the sound of things crunching and pausing and sniffing…then the sun, blazing anew. And again that thing, descending, its wide black wings beating slowly, metronomically—but none of that mattered any more. For his mind had quit him, had flown howling into ice and pine to roost with things surreal. In the day his madness might muddle and run, or spend the light stalking, cat-like, watching and waiting. But at night it came creeping from all sides. Sometimes it came in waves. It could gnaw like the devil, or wrap around him like a warm second skin. But none of that mattered either.
The only thing that mattered was the trail—whether it was lost for good, or for only a while. He’d been following it through his episodes, always north, wondering just who and where in the world he was, and trying to shake a ridiculous notion of being led on a wild goose chase.
The cold was unbelievable.
The deeper north he delved, the more confused he became. He grew starved for colors and scents, finding nonexistent patterns in the stark contrast of shadow and snow. He thought he could detect a kind of otherworldly design in the overwhelming number of dead ends he encountered, and, too, in the diabolically frustrating locations of natural obstacles. He seemed to be forever fighting the wind—a hulking, despondent snowman, he hiked face down and focused, while another aspect of his attention floated just behind, disembodied, watching his silent pursuers…leaving no tracks, blending perfectly with the environment in their clever winter coats…not predators, but creatures that normally should have been hightailing it away from him. By the time he could turn, they’d become nothing more menacing than snowdrifts. But they pursued him nevertheless.
And so his paranoia increased…had there ever really been a trail…and when did this miserably cold, miserably anemic crusade begin…his long-term memory was falling apart a chunk at a time. It just got colder and colder and colder until at last, one snippet of a day during one blur of a year, he found himself utterly lost, and clueless as to his history or objective. His mind was a blank, as colorless and featureless as the endless world of ice around him. He’d come this far solely to learn that the only trail he’d been following was his own—and now even that trail was succumbing to ice. On all sides there was nothing to see but an infinite field of glaring whiteness, and nothing to hear but the ululating wail of the tubular polar wind. It was the loneliest, the unholiest, the creepiest sound imaginable. But it wasn’t insanity that made him wheel. It was his self-preservation instinct.
And then he was somehow on his knees in the woods, facing a furious setting sun.
Whole seasons had passed from his memory like chalk from a board. His only recollections were those of a broken, haunted animal:  of being perilously sick, of fearing the unseen, of blindly struggling across a solid-white wilderness. That he’d survived such an ordeal meant nothing to him. And that he had in some indecipherable manner stumbled across the cold-as-stone trail did not fill him with amazement or with thankfulness—there simply wasn’t anything visual or emotional left to draw on. A significant part of his life had been whited out.
But now he could focus entirely on the trail. And before he knew it, the fuzzy area between fantasy and reality found a seam. He began to analyze and plan. He paid attention to hygiene, and kept a kind of running mental journal. Things were sorting out. Yet there were nights when the old sickness would resurface, reestablish its hold, and leave him sweating and uncertain under the stars. Then, paradoxically, his perception would become razor-keen. And so he would see, on a distant hilltop, a pair of scrawny silhouettes, one on four legs and one on two, slowly crossing the faintly pocked face of the setting moon. He would become strangely excited, and thereafter retain crystal-clear images of himself, as if seen from above, hurrying with adroitness through the silent, graveyard-like setting of black and blue night and white-frosted trees. Then the fuzzy area would broaden, and it would be the next morning, and he would be staring at the prints of man and elk in snow. And he would see how the elk’s prints doubled back, and how the man’s prints terminated where he had obviously mounted his guide. An unfathomable glow would bring tears to his eyes. But, even as he gathered himself, a fresh snowfall would wipe out the prints. And once again the world would plummet into white. And the wind would howl as the snow hammered his eyes. And he would ***** on.

A haggard animal sat shivering in a small grove of frozen pines, watching his campfire die. His eyes were fixed. Like the fire, he was running out of warmth, running out of fuel. There wasn’t a whole lot of tinder round his bones, and not much feeling left in his limbs. The slowly heaping downfall was burying him alive, but he was too numb to care.
It had taken him six long years to cross an entire continent, and during that time he’d known only cold and excruciating pain. The pain was leaving him now. The cold was making it right. His eyes glazed over.
Along a narrow plain to the west a herd of caribou filed dreamily through the snow, cutting across a panoramic backdrop of dazzling white mountains. The slow-motion parade was hypnotic. After a while it occurred to the drifting man, in a roundabout way, that he was dying, that he was nonchalantly freezing to death. Concurrent with this notion there rose in his chest a wonderful liquid warmth. His eyes slowly closed and, once shut, began to set fast.
He was jolted from within. It was as if he’d been kicked in the heart.
He ****** to his feet, pounded his fists on his thighs, felt nothing. The breath spurted from his mouth in small white clouds as he stumbled downhill after the slow caribou train. He swam through the snow, hallucinating, imagining that certain individuals in the herd were mocking him by slowing and accelerating, while others glanced back with expressions of contempt.
As he burst into their midst the animals stepped aside indifferently. A few galloped ahead to keep up the herd, but most simply sidestepped while he danced there, stamping his feet and smacking his hands. The herd grew thinner, until only the old and infirm were filing by. The man desperately embraced a hobbling female for warmth, but she cried out and kicked, triggering a panic reaction in the herd. Clinging for his life, the man was dragged along beside her as the herd stormed into a maze of flying ice and snow. His weight caused her to stagger sideways until they slammed against the flank of a sick male. The man instinctively threw an arm over the male and, thus draped between them, was borne across the drifted plain for upwards of a mile, his freezing feet alternately dangling above and dragging through the snow. The herd broke into a hard run, forcing him to assume a broken trot. Soon his legs were stinging. Sensation rushed through his body.
Now the herd, still picking up speed, began to contract, jamming him between his bearers. There was a quick jolt to his right and he was lifted clean off his feet, nearly straddling the bucking female. It had become an all-out stampede. Through hard-flung snow he saw the cause:  just ahead, the caribou had run head-on into a solid wall of galloping wood bison, and both frantic herds had blindly veered to the east; were in fact running side by side down a deep, ragged canyon—were pouring over the canyon’s lip like a cataract. He was approaching, at breakneck pace, that very place where the converged herds so abruptly swerved. The hanging man snarled as he was borne inevitably to the point of deflection.
There came a concussion at his left shoulder, followed by a blast of snow. In an instant the ailing male was tumbling head over heels to the east, ****** into the stampede’s plummeting mass by the fury of its descent. The man and female, rebounding from this impact, were shot to the west in a crazy jumble of flailing legs. The caribou lost her footing, flew nose-first into a snowbank, and came up running. Kicking off, the man used the last of his strength to heave himself astride. At first she fought to shake him, but the spell of the run was too strong. She and half a dozen others went pounding in the opposite direction of the stampede, quickly joined by a number of bison that had likewise splintered from their herd. The riding man could make out their huge hulking shapes thundering by in a blizzard of flying ice, could hear their heavy gasps and explosive grunts. One passed so close he felt its massive flank brush his leg. He peered to his right and saw a black, pig-like eye regarding him excitedly, moving up and down like a piston as the beast ran alongside.
The eye shifted, focusing on the gasping, completely obsessed female. The bull dropped its head and slammed into the caribou’s side, sending her and the man careening down a ***** to the west. The caribou brayed hysterically and her backside went down, but she managed, despite the weight of her rider, to return to all fours and frantically continue along the *****. Again the bull charged, crashing into her shoulder. The man and caribou were launched sideways into the white searing air.
He sat up carefully. The huffing bison was straddling him like a bully laying down the ground rules. Its big wiry beard came right up to brush his chin. The stench of its breath was stupefying.
The bull stamped and snorted, thrusting its stubby horns left and right as the man used his elbows and heels to back away. The bull followed, move for move. When the man collapsed under his own impetus the bull shoved him along with its snout, bellowing furiously. Clear down the ***** they lunged, shoving and lurching, until the man lay sprawled on his back; up to his chin in snow, completely helpless. The ton of a bull butted and kicked, but only glancingly:  those hooves could **** with a blow. At last the man, in one clean sequence, spun on his rear, dropped to his side, and went rolling down the ***** using his elbows for ******.
At the bottom ran a narrow fence of frosted saplings marking an ice cliff’s precipice. He lay face down in the snow, too done in to do anything but **** at an air pocket.
And there came a high-pitched crackling, a sound like the protracted gasp of embers in a dead fire. He turned just as those saplings began leaning to the west, their frozen skins cracking with the strain.
The bison bellowed menacingly.
The sprawled man looked back and saw it still standing with legs spread wide, silhouetted against the sky. In a moment it began huffing downhill, lurching side to side, surfing the snow between lunges.
It chased him through the genuflecting saplings straight into a frozen gully where, protected by a few feet of insurmountable verticality, he was able to slide on the ice between its stomping hooves, downhill out of reach, then downhill out of control—spinning just in time to glimpse a breathtaking vista:
Partly framed by the gully-straddling saplings was a vast crescent of jagged white mountains seemingly huddled round a small stretch of snow-draped pines. The little wood these mountains surrounded was isolated in a broad lake of solid ice. Hundreds of fissures radiated crazily throughout this packed ice field, appearing to issue from somewhere near the frozen wood’s center, which was completely obscured by a ring of rising mist. Above this thumbnail panorama the sun showered gold.
Then the gully dipped radically, and he was skidding headfirst, slamming back and forth against its slick white walls. This uncontrollable plunge had the positive effect of getting his blood flowing. Yet it tore him up. Had the gully concluded in a cul-de-sac, or had further progress required a single calorie of uphill effort, his struggle would certainly have ended here. He would have been too weak to move, and death would have been swift.
But there was a glacier—a great river of ice pouring slowly out of the clouds. The gully, terminating in a little scoop formation near the glacier’s base, spat him flailing onto its gnarly glass hide. He went head over heels, bits of skin and fur flying like chips from a band saw. Somehow he gained his footing, and then he was running against his will, tumbling and recovering and tumbling again.
He didn’t catch much of that crazy run. He half-glimpsed whirling walls of ice, felt a fickle surface underfoot, and broke through an assaultive mist that clung to his ankles and arms. He remembered having the ragged hides torn right off his body, and then being skinned alive. And he remembered reaching the glacier’s base and crawling like an animal; round its sweeping drifts, past its peaked moraines, all the way to a twisting frozen gorge.
And he followed this gorge down; ricocheting wall to wall, delirious, small plumes of thrashed snow marking his descent.
Through a freezing wood he fumbled. In a veil of mist he tumbled down a steep and verdant grade. As cold consumed his closing breath, he fell upon, near-blind, near death, a strange, enchanted glade.

There is a pool.
And in this pool a man lay purged, his broken body half-submerged.
The stumbling man stopped. He knelt to weep, but lost his thread. One hand took a bicep, the other, the head. With a twist and pull the corpse emerged.
That visage…that face—misshapen mask, contorted, bleached; of life’s deposits fully leached. Essence dispatched—a void, sodden wretch.
He let it fall and the glass was breached. All a freak, all a stretch:  upon this act his grip detached.
And the bridge collapsed…one vagabond grasp…what were these feelings; recaptured and trashed…a span elapsed…who was this puckered mass…he hauled it by the waist and thighs…slid it in, watched the pool react:  purse and recover, expand, contract. The glass reformed, now silver-backed…a sudden mirror…the man leaned nearer…saw his reflection, just smashed, remade intact.
The pool grew still.
Within its depth a shadow stirred—visions gathered, some distinct, some obscure. What they meant, and who they were, was much too much to fathom. The glass became blurred.
He closed his eyes, let his heavy head fall, fell back on his haunches, felt the sweat seep and crawl. The air was a pall—as he struggled to rise, a nib crossed his wrist.
He opened his eyes.
Between his fingers the blades poked and crept. Round his knuckles they ventured, up his forearm they stepped:  they seemed to be triggered by prompts from the ground. He shook his head slowly and dully looked round.
There were jays grouped about him, their black eyes aglow. Red hens came running, their fat chicks in tow. Gophers engaged in a weird hide-and-seek. Bluebells and buttercups craned for a peek. Sparrows hopped past and, paying no heed, burst into flight. He watched them recede.
Westward they flew.
Bewildered, he slumped.
Bumped from behind, he jumped to his feet, flabbergasted to find an ancient gray moose near-eclipsing the sky, with grit in his snarl and fire in his eye.
The old moose took aim.
The man turned to flee and stumbled, then tumbled and fell on a palm and a knee.

But there lies a world (so the lullaby goes) where rivers ever run.
Poked from behind, pushed out of his mind, he staggered into sun.







Copyright 2020 by Ron Sanders.

Contact:  ronsandersartofprose(at)yahoo(dot)com
Sorry about the ghastly copy. This system makes graceful formatting impossible.
Taru M Jan 2014
Insanity

I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y

Insanity- doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results


The First Time...ended in downpour
a shower of sorts
self-inflicted and long
she rolled off my body like water
her name rolled from my mouth
actually, her name was never in my mouth
I did not swallow it
   or rinse with it
it was not exchanged
it just dropped
   ...like the water


The First Time...started with a call
with nerves
she was all conservative sweater
her clothing did not betray her
sunken in couch
I was all of 16
my words betrayed me
No, maybe I betrayed my words
or maybe my mind betrayed us both
or maybe all betrayed all
   each of my personalities lost within another
I was all of 16, pre-downpour

The First Time...was the worst time
sunken in couch to sunken in bed
I was all of 16, I was all of betrayal
She...was all LIBERAL
They say,
in the weakest of moments, the spirit is loosened from the body - a detachment of sorts
in my most sensual of moments, my body was loosened from my spirit
     a weakness I guess

the first time ended with me
   in a ******
       in a trashcan
            in a bathroom that was not mine
the first time ended in downpour

~6 years~

The Second Time
#post downpour/ pre-tempest

The Second Time...started with nerves
   with a call
       with an itch that needed scratching
I already knew the ending
-happy
...then downpour
I was all of grown boy
sunken in couch was a different chapter
sunken in bed was a different chapter
this time, I was the author

...the rest is still unwritten...
send me a message if you're interested in the story behind the poem...there is a story...
Tyler Jenne' Aug 2016
This is a story I started to write about 3 or 4 years ago and still working on it.

The Great Journey
By: Tyler Jenne'

Chapter 1: New heroes

    There once was a small town known as Nightville. It was one of many small towns that had been split up from one big city. The king of nightville was the ruler of all the land. He became one of the most fear rulers of the Ancient city. As he sat upon his throne while the execution of 3 criminals was about to commence. These 3 criminals were Tyler, Paul, and Aren they were being executed for committing treason against the town of nightville. Before the execution could get under way Tyler asked to speak with the king. As the guards escorted Tyler, Paul, and aren to the king they noticed a shinny spark outside of the castle walls. The guard said to the King that 3 prisoners wish to speak to him.

    My guards tell me that you 3 wish to make  a deal with me to lesson your charge of treason said the king. Yes if there is anything that we can do to lesson our charge feel free to ask answered Tyler. Now that you mention it there is one thing the 3 of you can do for me replied the king. I have a little problem that you might be able to help me with. Sure what is it replied Paul. This kingdom was once part of a Ancient City. And something of great value was taken quite some time ago answered the king. It's called the Ancient Artifact it is what give the ancient city life. I have a friend that will help guide you to your destination.

    How far do we have to travel before we meet your friend asked aren. He is in the Majestic forest of Tieranorith replied King Goldencrown. All I can say is that you must travel through the rigorous valley of lost souls, but beware of the treacherous orcs lieing within the brush of the valley. How do we know if we'll be going the right way asked Paul. Trust in yourself to guide you through the valley. There is only one way to go and no way you can get lost answered king goldencrown. You are no longer criminals you are 3 brave warriors under the command of King Goldencrown. Now off you go and may your inner spirit serve you well and guide you to the safe haven of the ancient city.

   So as the  3 friends rode off on their horses towards the majestic forest of tieranorith. The roads were rocky and rough as the friends traveled through brush and rubble of Old Nightville. It's nothing, but a wasteland said Tyler. Just remember if we do this our debt to society will be erased from the records of the justice court of nightville said aren. We must keep moving before it gets dark said Paul. The 3 friends found a cave to rest for the night so they could have enough energy to resume their journey. Little did the 3 friends know, but orcs were slowly creeping up on the 3 warriors. As the friends woke from their slumber they smelled something foul in the air. Oh god what is that awful stench asked Paul. It smells like something died or was killed in the night. Yeah I smell it too damm that stinks answered aren. I smell it too, but it doesn't smell like something that was killed in the night it smells like a grotesque creature that is hiding from the light replied Tyler.

   Above on the mountain top far away a shadow like figure watch the brave warriors continue their travels towards the dark valley of lost souls. He sent his minions out to get rid of the brave warriors. Knowing that there was already a pack of rabid orcs and wolves on their heels. Minions seek out the leader of the orcs and bring them to me shouted the shadow figure. As the minions set out to join the rabid group of orcs in ridding their land of the brave warriors. Meanwhile the braves warriors reached the valley of lost souls. It's so dark here said Tyler. Legend has it that there was a great battle waged in this valley replied aren. It used to be a grand arena where they had brave gladiators fight to the death. They must have been brutal battles here replied Paul. You can still see the blood stains in the sand. Whoa did you guys feel that? asked Tyler. I don't feel anything replied aren. Yeah me neither said Paul. I could have sworn I felt something had gently brushed me on the cheek said Tyler. Maybe the heat of this valley is getting to me.

   Halfway through the desert filled valley the brave warriors look at each other in awe at the amazement of carnage left from a ****** and brutal wars. Holy crap look shouted Aren. It looks like something is up ahead. Whoa that's weird replied Tyler. As the brave warriors looked ahead and kept moving forward they could see a bloodshed of dead bodies lieing in their way. Oh my goodness what happened here asked Paul. There are bodies everywhere answered Aren. The bodies were mangled and hanging off of tree limbs. We have to keep moving said Paul. The brave warriors climbed over the dead bodies thankfully they made it to the end of the valley of lost souls. As the sun began to fall the brave warriors stop into a dark forest. This is interesting said Tyler. Let's get some sleep and in the morning we'll explore this odd forest. The sky was dark and lurking in the darkness orcs were getting closer and closer to the brave warriors. As the wind began to blow the trees back and forth the orcs jumped to and from the trees with ease. The next morning as the sun rose from behind the great mountain.

    High above the great mountain was the shaman of the north. He had kept watch over the brave warriors since they made their way through the valley of lost souls. It shouldn't be much longer until they reach the majestic forest of of Tieranorith. I only hope vaiking hasn't sent his minions out after them said Matthew. As the brave warriors woke from their slumber they looked around at the forest. Wow those are huge trees said aren. I can see a giant mountain and at the top of it is what looks like a church of some sort replied Paul. Halt who has been tresspassing through my forest asked King Anthony. I'm Tyler and these are my friends Paul and Aren. What brings you into my forest? asked King Anthony. We are in search of an ancient artifact replied aren. Oh yes I remember a long time ago when the ancient artifact was used to power the ancient city, but again that was a long time ago replied King Anthony.  So the story of the ancient city is true? asked Tyler. Yes very much so answered King Anthony.

    Your forest is amazing said Paul. Thank you I come out here from my castle when something is troubling me replied Anthony. Does anyone know who would take the ancient artifact? asked aren. Many of the rulers throughout the ancient city believe it's vaiking who took the ancient artifact replied Anthony. You may not have realized it, but as you walked through the valley of lost souls you passed through a invisible portal that only can be seen when the artifact is back where it belongs. Do know of vaikings where about? asked Paul. No replied Anthony. He was once a member of the great council within the ancient city. When there was a disagreement between two parties. We would take it to the council for final deliberation.

    Is the great counsel still active? asked Tyler. No replied Anthony. After the artifact was taken the cousin siece to exist. There was no reason to keep the cousin in effect since the city is revolves around the artifact. Who do you think might know where the artifact would located at? asked Paul. The shaman of the north might know replied Anthony. He lives at the top of the great mountain.  You must know that the artifact isn't one specific thing, it was broken into six pieces. Without all the pieces the ancient city will stay in darkness. Ok got it get artifact bring it to the ancient city to restore the life of the great counsel and the city said aren. Before you leave take these horses for they will help you get to the top of the great mountain.

    As the brave warriors left the forest heading north towards the great mountain. Still unaware of what was following them orcs were leaping from tree to tree. Who's there? asked aren. Is someone out there? What's wrong aren? asked Paul. I thought I heard something moving through the trees replied aren. I'm sure it was just the wind blowing through them said Paul. Maybe your right replied aren. Let's keep moving we are almost them to the great mountain. The brave warriors rode towards the  mountain on the horses. Riding up the first giant hill of this mountain was taking its toll on the brave warriors. Higher and higher they scaled the mountain. How much longer till we reach the top asked Tyler. Another day or so replied aren. The heat of the sun was beaming down onto the brave warriors. Water  I need water gasped Paul. Here drink from my canteen said Tyler. Thanks man I needed that said Paul. Your welcome replied Tyler.

    To their surprise as the sun was beating down on them a white flake fell from the sky. What the hell is this asked aren. It looks like snow answered Tyler. It was indeed snow falling from the sky, but not because of the gods above. The shaman of the north had cast a spell causing the snow to fall. He did this to help the brave warriors keep distance from the orcs that were behind them. The orcs still followed the brave warriors from behind, but not on the ground. they continued to swing from the trees.

Only to their surprise they were dropping like flies and hitting the ground  with much velocity. The ground shook violently to the core leaving not a trace of the orc. Let's find some cover before this blizzard topples over us said Paul. In here replied aren.  Into a cave they went not know what they would come across in the process. Lets rest in here for the night said Tyler. I'll build a fire replied aren.

The snow fell continuously throughout the night. The weather was treacherous to the point of barricading the entrance to the cave that the brave warriors were in. Morning came and the brave warriors woke to total darkness. Holy Crap what happened to the light said Paul. It looks as if the snow came completely over the cave entrance and now we're trapped in  here replied aren. I'll light a torch for us. Let's go this way there has to be another way out of this cave. The brave warriors made their way through the dark and wet cave.

     How much longer until we see another way out of this cave asked aren.  I don't know replied Paul. Let's keep moving if we stop we'll lose momentum to get back on the trail towards  the great mountain. Time went on and the braves warriors felt as if they had been in this cave for months even a year. Dude we really need to find a way out of here said Tyler. It's going to be ok man just calm down replied aren. I think I see something sparking in the corner over here. The brave warriors had stumble across a shiny piece of metal. ******* it's the first piece of the artifact said Paul. Cool let me see replied Tyler. I think I see some light up ahead. As the brave warriors kept moving forward the light became brighter and brighter the closer they moved towards it. They reached the area of where the light was shinning from. The light was coming from a wall of some sort. When the brave warriors pushed on the mysterious wall it opened to a room of what looked like was once a part of a castle from the roman era. There in the middle of the room was a mysterious hooded figure. Your travels have finally brought you to me for more guidance said the mysterious figure. Who are you and what do you want from us asked Paul. It is not what I want from you, but want can I help you with replied the mysterious figure. Not knowing that it is Matthew the shaman of the north behind the hood.

      The brave warriors scratch their heads in curiosity they think to themselves The has to be some sort of reason for us being able to survive all the obstacles we've faced in our journey for the ancient artifact said aren. Yeah, but it's not like this guy is the reason for us surviving the weather answered Paul. If he was the reason we should asked him why he has helped us make it this far and also where are we right now. You may be wondering who I am and where you are said the hooded figure. Yeah we were just thinking that answered Paul. My name is Matthew and I am known as the shaman of the north.  It's nice to meet you I'm Paul and these are my friends Tyler and aren. I know I have watched over you from the time you left nightville replied Matthew. You have many question and I have many answers for you. I know you wish to know where you are.
We are standing in a castle that used to be one of the many kingdoms within the ancient city long ago. Also you wish to know the time period you are in. When king Anthony had told you that when you made it through the valley of souls you passed through a portal into his forest, well that forest is part of the roman era. So we are in the roman empire days asked Tyler. Yes replied Matthew. The days of the roman empire are far from the glory days.

I remember when the roman empire was at their highest of having soldiers up to 300 strong. Did they have many wars during their reign asked aren. They did more so against barbarians that had came from the north replied Matthew. At that time the roman empire didn't have 300 soldiers, but enough to defend their lands. Again it was a long time ago, but the sands will forever be stained with the blood of the brave roman soldiers that defended their land. Anthony told us about vaiking and how he was once a part of the great counsel is there anything more you can tell us about vaiking and his part within the counsel? asked Paul. Ah yes vaiking he was once a part of the great counsel replied Matthew. He was second in line to be head of  the counsel and when things didn't go his way in the election for head of the great counsel. After that vaiking became obsessed with gaining the power of which that position held. He swore on the lives of everyone children and families that we would all pay for our decisions. Well does anyone know what happen to vaiking after his breakdown over power asked Paul. Last we knew he was building an army of orcs and minions to destroy the great counsel answered Matthew.

      The council decided to evacuate everyone within the ancient city take them to an unknown location to keep everyone safe from harm Matthew continued. After vaiking broke down about not getting the top seat of the council he swore that he would bring pain and suffering upon all those who conspired against him. As vaiking walked into the darkness with nothing more to lose the sand storm that ran through here destroyed almost everything and everyone. Soon thereafter no one has heard from or knows where vaiking disappeared to.  Many say he was swallowed by the sand storm and he now hide within the darkness where he stays because of the shame he brought to nightville. That must of been awful for him to feel betrayed by people he thought he could trust replied aren. Maybe a part of him did feel betrayed, but nobody felt more betrayed then the ancient city did answered Matthew.

We must leave for we aren't safe here there are orcs following you. they've been following from the very start of your journey. The four friends set forth to continue their journey of finding the remaining pieces of the ancient artifact. Still the orcs and minions were hot on their trail. Some orcs were riding on wolves where the remaining orcs scaled through the trees. The lead orc was one of the most dangerous orcs ever to ride on a wolf. His name was drake and nobody could match his strength. With one fell swoop he could lay waste to an entire group of soldiers with his mighty axe. The axe blade was made from harden steel and the base of his axe was carved from the trees of the majestic forest of Tieranorith. Someone let  lord vaiking that we have the shaman of the north and the three brave warriors in our sight ordered Drake.  As his fellow orcs sent word to lord
It is a story about me and my closest friends.
Cass Dec 2013
I feel like you can't trust anyone any more.
the people you thought would always be there for you and have your back
end up always being the one to betray you.
now you're betrayed
with nothing left
just shame and guilt
that's all you feel
having someone you can tell everything to
that you think is mature enough
to keep things to themselves
tell the people who hate you the most
everything just makes you feel so stupid
makes you feel so empty alone
they know the worst feeling to feel is alone
and that's exactly what they do
make you feel alone
like you have no one
that one person that says they'll be there for you
you cant trust them
makes you feel so good and welcome
makes you feel like family
because your actual family just hates you
turns around and stabs a 12 inch butcher knife in your back
is the worst thing that could ever happen to you
and it happened
to you
all these feelings are inside
tearing you apart
eating away
all these feelings that they knew it would have caused
caused all of them
they knew it would all make things worse
they knew it would make you upset
what they may not have know
is that it would make you want to die
but they did it all
by betraying someone
who "meant so much" who they "loved"
but did they really?
no
because if they did
they wouldn't' have said anything.
-cd
My body betrayed me
When it felt my skin
On yours.
It shivered and
Quivered,
It always wanted more.
There is glass
In my chest;
Nothing more.
Blue is color
Of lovers;
June is no more.

Eyes betrayed I by
Letting you cut me
And break me,
So please,

No more.
Cassius Jan 2012
Betrayed by a kiss
Lied to by a hug
Left out to dry by a gaze

Enchanted by touch
Encouraged by time
Lust struck by sight

She's that girl
We all know the one
The one we all thought
We knew we had won
Donna Bella Dec 2014
Born on Mars
Raised up as a Scorpio Goddess
Destroying the demons in my path
Loving everyone who can be loved
Hating the ones who've betrayed me
Living on as a Goddess
An egyptian goddess who speaks words of life
A goddess
A Aug 2014
I trusted you
You betrayed me
*******
            
I gave you everything I had
You betrayed me
*******

You said you loved me
I believed you
you said forever
I believed you

*******
For making me blind
For making me break
For making me lose all hope


For making me want to die.
I was his and he was mine
But then he broke my heart and left me for another girl,
A girl I used to know,
A girl who I had once called my friend,
My best friend.

Now I am standing,
Lonely,
In the crowd,
Watching them laugh
Watching them hold hands,
Watching them kiss,
Watching them do what we used to do.

I stare at them
Through my soulless brown eyes
Saddened that I was not the one
Saddened that it was her,
That she was the girl who encouraged me to go after him,
The girl who knew everything,
The girl who was a sister to me.
But in the end,
She betrayed me,
Betrayed my trust,
Taking him away from me,
When she could have had him from the very beginning,
Sparing me from the numbness I feel in the chasm where my heart used to be,
But she didn't,
And now I'm alone.
They have each other,
And I have been left,
All alone in the crowd of people.
Betrayed, O to be betrayed,
A once betrothed and now misbehaved.
Misdeemed and misdeeds creeping upon me,
Fighting for friends now uncertainly,

Walking own a bent path,
Finding less and less are on task,
More would rather hang out back,
And what's a man to do in a world like that?

What started as a fellowship,
Now ends in dismemberment,
And the lonely feeling sinks in,
And the friends become foes, at the turn of a pen.

Setting my up for failure,
Jealous, or unsure,
I wish I cared anymore,
But that time has long since gone ashore...

And so as I look into the sea,
Something as dark, desolate, and as desperate as me.
I add a few more salty tears to its salty depths,
In hopes that this feeling of apathy will be ceased.
But I think a part of me knows,
Long before any more blows,
That this is the Real World,
And there is little time now for woe.
- From Birds Flying Into The Eclipse Of Mars
Melissa Koe Nov 2014
The wind blew strongly. Out at sea, the fisherman’s small boat swayed in rhythm with the waves. He stood up and adjusted the sail, in case the wind blew it off. After so many years of earning a living as a fisherman, he has made peace with the sea – he no longer feels sea sick. Oh, but he feels a certain kind of sickness…… a different kind. His eyes filled with tears as he shifted his gaze from his worn out canvas sails to the horizon where the sun is just about to set. The sky above him is slightly orange – but is dulled by the gray of the storm clouds shifting in.

                He thanked the gods for the sky above and the sea below him, albeit the upcoming storm. He has recently lost his daughter, Fatema to the sea. His grief is still fresh, it still cuts deep. He lost his daughter to the tsunami that destroyed the fishing village. He has lost all his belongings – but nothing belonging to him will ever be as valuable as Fatema. Yes, grief makes him sick – and he has a good reason for that. When they found her, her body was trapped between five pieces of driftwood – it was a gruesome sight. How ironic is it? The arms of Neptune have always supported him throughout his life – making sure he earned a living and yet, the same menacing arms betrayed him and took Fatema away.

                For that, he was angry with the gods. How could they take away a life as easily as they gave it? He snapped out of his thoughts and raised the back of his hand to his eyes to wipe away the tears. His musings aren’t going to help. He has to begin sailing to find a shelter from the storm that is rolling in or else he won’t make it through the night. For the past week or so, he has been living in his small boat, making sure his stomach is full by fishing for small fish and crustaceans. He fixed his sail and began to sail in the direction of a small cove he is familiar with which will provide adequate shelter for tonight.

                As he sailed, he started to feel lonely. He reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a locket with Fatema’s picture in it. He brought it to his face and gently kissed it, gripping it in his hand. As he sailed nearer the cove, moonlight began to illuminate the prow of his boat. When he is near enough to the shore, he skillfully measured the depth with sight alone, and lowered the anchor to make sure his boat remained in that position till dawn.
                As he descended from his boat, he waded through the water. Both of his arms are full of dried driftwood for him to start a fire tonight. He heard the distant sound of crickets and an owl. He walked toward the beach, heading towards a small cave and entered it. He checked the ground to make sure it was dry before he started a fire using the driftwood. The crackling of fire accompanied by the distant rumbling of thunder brought comfort to his ears. The flames that rose and vanished combined with the smell of the smoke left a silage – a lingering presence that soothed him. They reminded him of how he used to read stories of beasts and princesses alike to Fatema when she was a young girl until she fell asleep in his arms. Those days are long gone now. He stood up and headed back to his boat to set up the fishing nets for his meal later on tonight. He fixed the nets close to the shore before walking back to the cave to the warmth of the fire. He did not know what to do. He was supposed to sail back to the mainland by next week but the storm has been slowing him down. He listened to the rhythm of the waves crashing against his boat and drifted off to sleep……

                He opened his eyes. He did not hear any crackling from the fire nor feel the warmth from it. When he looked down, the fire has been extinguished. The moon was so high and bright now he only needed the fire for warmth. Just as he was about to stand up to fetch more wood from the boat, he heard a sound. Yes, there was a slight drizzle but it wasn’t the sound of rain hitting the sand. It was a soft, melodious voice which was….singing.
“May you sail fair to the far fields of fortune,
with diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet
and may you need never to banish misfortune,
may you find kindness in all that you meet.”

                It was the lullaby he sang to Fatema as a young girl. He began to feel excited and ignored the voice at the back of his head telling him he was insane. He looked out and saw her – Fatema, sitting on a rock. He called out to her and she looked back at him, saying something he has been yearning to hear from her – “Papa.” He was speechless and could not believe his eyes. She donned the black dress they found her in, but she barely had any scratches on her; she did not even look wounded. Instead of walking towards him, she flashed her sweetest smile and started walking towards the beach. She beckoned for him to follow her. He ran towards her, constantly calling out to her but she did not reply. She held out her hand for him to hold, and he did.

                One more step and she will reach the water now. “Fatema, what are you doing?” “Papa, just come along with me.” With those few words…..he felt like he was in a trance. There were so many questions running through the back of his mind but he ignored all of them. Was he hallucinating? He turned to his left as they waded nearer to the sea – the fishing net that he placed near his boat had a small crab in it. The moonlight that shone onto the sea reflected on her beautiful features – her curly, black hair and light brown eyes. With every step he took, he felt more nervous, confused, and excited at the same time.

                The water level is up to their chest now.  On the second day after Fatema died, when he was very much in pain, he made an analogy about grief by comparing it to the nearest thing to him. Grief is like the sea. It drowns you while everyone else is swimming. He felt more familiar towards it….. it did not seem as foreign to him anymore. If so, he is “literally” being consumed by grief as they waded deeper into the sea. He did not mind though – this is the story of a man who desperately wants his daughter back. He did not care if he was hallucinating or if she was a ghost. He does not know where she is taking him, but he wants to follow his daughter to who-knows-where; for to him, that is paradise, be it in the depths of the sea or the height of the skies.

                He can no longer see the moon.
An essay I wrote for English exam.
one hour write-up.
Alexander Klein Oct 2013
I

In eras weird with old mythology,
As if asleep the fabled country lay:
Her wave-like hills and faerie forests dense,
Her thorny brambles budding curling claws,
And ivy circling all the woodsey way --
The far swan's cry came soft and woke them not.
Forlorn, that selfsame call upon the gates
Did break; those gates of Britain's long-lost keep.
She too slept fast, the weary weathered stones
Of fairest Caerleon. O pulsing stream,
Thou vein of life in woods a-slumber, Usk!
Alone are you in knowing castle's face,
From years of timeless burbling at her feet.
What tales are told by water over stone?
What lark or wren can sing of sadness come?
Aye, answers are the beach-wet sand, yet hark!
Rejoicings spilled, proud hails, from Caerleon:
They cheered the ****-frost's melting with the Spring;
The holy Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau
Had come at last, in foliage of dawn.

Within, their goblets sailed, wassailed, and crashed
Like growling Jove, their boasts and toasts like wine --
They drank it spiced and over-strong. Indeed,
Some stretched exaggerations: 'twas Sir Bors,
That spotless sheet, who tried to contradict.
He quoted purifying texts and spurned
The wine that nature raised and crafted sweet.
Yet "Loosen up!" uproared the host to him.
"The time has come to celebrate," said Kay,
Beloved knight, step-brother to the King,
"Aloft thy wine, below thy gills! Drink! Laugh!
Your stomach is a falsehood-spewing fool,
It must be drowned for you to feel a lord.
I speak a sooth, you need wine's fleeting bliss!
Know thee that man's tomorrows bleed him dry:
A wade through death and depths as sure as pain
That shall tomorrow light your brow. Laugh! Drink!"
Bold cheering spread with Kay's advice, though yet
To no surprise Bors turned aside the drink,
Unblemished bore, so celebrates alone.
Weep not for him, for soon he'll find a cup
More suited to his strange of chaste and grace.
And none to waste: his share was drunk by all.

Engaged in feast Owain ap Urien,
Engaged in tale now Bedwyr and Kay,
And Lancelot made eyes at Gwenevere.
It was a feast of great success and joy
As fitting of the season's robust gleam,
Yet two there were with shallow-rooted smiles.
Prince Mordred one, though ever-somber he:
Accursed spawn with bone in place of heart
And dreaded incantations for his blood;
His brooding perched like crow on him. Alas:
The other joy-bled man had beard aflame,
A bear-skin drape, and crystal eyes, the Lord
He was of Caerleon and Mordred both.
'Twas not the gleam in lover's gaze that vexed
Though it was seen; he had no heart in him
To chain his Queen as if in dungeon steel,
For Arthur lived believing to be fair
Was paramount, to even paramour.
It wreaked its toll, yet caused small grief this day.
Not even serpent son gave cause to mourn
That greater was than missing nephew's spot
Among the feast. His chair was naked bare
Returned though he should be from faerie quest.
At Calan Gaeaf they expected him
When winter storms had racked their shoddy hall,
Yet since, the months had rolled to Gwyl Fair
The milder season come, but not his kin.
The image of his maiméd corpse did taunt
And haunt the agéd mind of Arthur, King,
His phantom nephew slain anon by knight
That of no flesh was made. In year that died
This green-mailed knight arrived a guest and called
Infernal challenge. Trick it seemed to them
And trick it was, for subsequent the blow,
This seaweed knight did lift his severed head
And from dead lips he cried "Well struck! Now come,
Fulfill me of my game. The year to come
Shall see thee in my home, and as agreed
My turn 'twil be to answer with my axe."

So rapt in recollecting, Arthur missed
The growing clamor that beset his hall.
His ******* cleared the grief from him with taunt,
To bring him into grief. "What say thee, Dad,"
Dripped venom from his mouth, "No love for us?
Your hail we called, but disapprove your eyes.
Methinks that far away thou seest a dream
That visits oft the elderly: a place
Thou knewst when in thy prime, with love
Now filled to burst. Yet fear us not, away!
To land of youth far more beloved than we
Whose happiness with thine own heart is twined."
"My fellow, soft!" the King began, distressed,
Yet Lancelot rose to his feet and spake
"Blackguard is he who mocks our Lord to face!
Thou palest hide, thou Mordred, sit thee down!
This sniveling craven knight should be replaced."
A sounding of the table met his speech,
Again was hailed his toast, and Arthur glad,
Though burdened to his breaking point, and sad.

"Blackguard is he who mocks our Lord to face,"
Had spake his bravest champion and friend
With no regard to Blackguard wrapped in stealth.
See how his roughspun fingers coil in hers
And how some sweetened whisper 'scapes her lips?
The beams of color-stainéd light slip down
To play upon their blissful sin almost
As if King Arthur's King approved on high.
Sovereignty is ruthless, Arthur thought,
Well-wishings of my God grow ever-faint.
I must believe in good though I am ill,
Just as I find my countrymen displeased
Though I did calculate my every breath
To see that it did stand with God's own will
To help my common people from their murk.
I fear I am not what I wished to be,
And now my only solace peaceful death.
If up to me, I'd wish it in my bed.

What horn's blare? Hark! King Arthur roused from thought.
Court gatekeeper Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr,
Dressed plain in brown, took down the horn from lips
And loud as elk called to the hall "Have cheer!
Sirs, drink another beer and wreath your brow
With springtime blooms, for lost knight fair is found!"
Old Arthur trusted not his feeble ears,
But came a hush and Lancelot confirmed:
"What **," he boomed, "our brother has returned!
'Tis grey Gawaine, aye, Gwalchmai! Drink his hail!"
The uproar was enourmous: "Gwalchmai! Cheers!"
Was like to wake the sleeping wilderness
That hung suspended in the myth and mist.

II

Astonishment had come like breaking wave
Upon the thirsty sands of monarch's face
So long consigned to reap the low-tide's grief.
When Arthur's ursine hand clenched round his cup
And hailed his nephew's presence with a roar
Long lost to hibernation's hoary spell,
The hearts that beat in armor under him
Did swell to find their lord with cheer at last;
The toast they drank so hearty as to give
Sweet Dionysus pause against excess.
Though only two there were who did not drink,
And one of these were Bors, a sadness fell
Once more as tangible as any wrong
That chose to haunt a hall. 'Twas Gwalchmai grey,
The conqueror now home from quest to rest
Who would not lift his eyes to meet the King's.

"Has cheer so fled from you? Your life remains!
What black has inked you in?" the King did ask,
And silence overtook the hall to hear.
How strongly then did Gwalchmai wish to leave,
To blend once more his form to root or branch
Or soaring river. Wind, the songbird's muse,
Had been his fast companion on the road,
For known to him were many things. He was,
They say, some god that stalked the minds of man
In young enchanted places of the world
Though all his magic helped him not at court:
His shyness was a leaf obscured by rain.
Yet even gods of silence know to speak
When words of pain encircle heavy hearts.
He let them fly, birds in the sky, he said
"I failed. My quest was long and arduous,
The seasons changed while I in heather lost,
The moon its phases shed as fen-frogs called,
I floated through the endless cloying mist
That flows, a ghostly sea wrapped round our isle.
The path had nearly drowned me when I found
The chapel green enough to spell my doom.
When entered I, methought "It cannot be!"
So kind and courteous a host met me
That would have been disgrace to call him green.
He feasted me, and warmed my wounded bones,
Yet I betrayed him in the end; I failed.
I stayed his guest, and friend, and swore to him
That for his hospitality I'd share
Each thing I won while underneath his roof.
And all was well -- I'd rest, he'd hunt -- until
His wife played hearts with me. I did refuse,
But by her final trick was tempted and --
So lost all knightly honor and renoun.
Her lusts I spurned three times, but on the third
She offered me that which my heart desired,
Instead of love she begged me take her boon:
A silken girdle sewn with charms, and green,
Deceit I should have seen. She said the spells
Would keep me safe from harm and spare my life...
When on my rugged journey all I'd feared
Was twisting face of death that loomed so near.
I could not help myself, it seemed so tame,
Yet when the time had come I could not share
That gift, or else expose the husband's wife.
Beneath my armor tied when left that place,
My secret wore me down upon the bog.
It seemed the mist grew thicker, wind grew swift,
I now know under spell was I, but then
It seemed some vengence coming to a head.
My tale grows long, and past the point am I.
The Green Knight and my host were one in fraud:
An airy insect's dream. His "wife," a witch,
Had formed him out of acrid moorland soil:
Homunculus to carry out her scheme.
The blow he owed me carried little force,
Though still this scratch is plain upon my nape.
And so you see my folly plain as oak:
For though I kept the life I feared to lose
My lie grows in me like a cancer bloom
That in the span of time shall **** me sure.
I failed; I'm gone; to revelry return."
The silence, vast again, gripped all the knights
And king too dry to cry, who drowned his heart.

III

"Is there some madness come to roost herein?
Thy folly is ridiculous," said Kay.
"I valued mine own life past honor's flame,
A sin of selfishness, and blame, and wrong.
What of the world, if all would act as such?"
A weeping noise he made, but choked it back
And turned to leave in shame, and might have done
Had not the stout Sir Kay gripped Gwalchmai's arm.
He raised it in the air and shouted thus:
"Percieve our stunning champion stands nigh!
Though of a frail ennobled heart, we know
Thou art absolved. This trinket given free
To aid in quest I wager was for thee.
And as for sacred broken vows, this man --
You said yourself -- was conjured from a bug.
You owe him no alleigance Gwalchmai, sit!
This serious you need to be for wine:
Come sit with brothers now! We drink to thee!"
"Dispel the failure all you can, it stays
As weighty on my brain. It was a sign
To signify the kind of soul I am,
To me it showed my grimy ills and plain
Did tell my shaping, shape, and shape-to-be."
King Arthur to this nephew spake: "My child,
Is there no antidote to questing's woes?
What has become of jousts and silver swords?"
The anguish in the old man's eyes so keen
To those who knew him. Gwalchmai did reply
"Your majesty, there's not a grief can ****
My bird-like love of questing through the trees,
For only questing can redeem my shape."
"Then let us have this quest!" cried Kay beside
Him at the table, deep in drink he swore.
"Come with me, brother-knight, to clear thy mood!
You do you wrong blaspheming at yourself."
The wine was quaffed by Gwalchmai, yet he said
"I first shall stay, I need to rest my ills."
"Your ills are that which keep you ill, good knight.
I bid you come and we shall quest as birds
Who savor springtime berries in the mist."
"I shall not go, I seek my quietude."
"In sunlight you and I must bask. Comply,
Or else I challenge you by burnished blade."
All eyes on Gwalchmai, under pressure cracked
Into a grin and downed his kykeon.
"In stubborness persisting, Kay, you've won,
A river such as I could not keep stead
Against a boulder. When shall we away?
When come the summer blossoms, fair and red?
Or else not til the saps have lost their leaves?
Departure yours to choose, my brother-knight."
Kay beat upon the table and their ears
When called triumphantly "This very day,
This very hour! To help those who need aid
On holy days shall surely fix your heart.
No time to wallow in the swamp that's gone,
We now away, to break our swords with day!"
"You mock me or you heard me not, Sir Kay,
I wish not to away, I wish to rest!"
The fairest Guenevere, like silver bells,
Chimed in "You must forgive your heart's despair,
Or emanations of its guilt will plague
Your mind. I have a lunar garden if
You wish to sit in soothing calm and think."
"My queen is holy," Gwalchmai spoke in grace,
But Kay had cut him off with "Hear her not!
She will ensorce your mind to not explore,
To sit and think and mold with lunacy;
Beneath the sun we'll tred. It's known on quests
I favor Bedwyr, 'tis true, yet you
My fairest Gwalchmai, keep your wits -- and arms --
Two things in need of we shall be.
I mean you no offense, dear Bedwyr,
But I and Gwalchmai share a severed soul
And shall succeed; two sides of selfsame coin.
So come my cousin grey, to right our wrongs
We must away, to break our swords and say
'My heart is glad I did not stay at home!'
Consume your drink! We go," he trumpet-called.
Thus Gwalchmai was convinced, and so was forced
To nod politely to his Queen and stand,
Declaring to the court "I shall away,
This gloomy mood is dried beneath the sun
Though dearly do I wish some lunar grace
To lose myself in mysteries anew.
To bear this flesh is weighty, yet I've found
The strain to be rewarding in its way.
Think nothing of my former woes, they've passed
Like summer storm or wisp of misty cloud."
The hall at large did drink his hail, and then
Did thrice more drink for quest to which they went.
And Mordred scowled and drank the foulest wine
For his monsoon and fog would last his life.

So summoned then Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr
To hearken unto birds, as was his gift.
He said to all, "I shall now call my friends
And see what worthy tales of quests they bring!"
"There may be naught on Gwyl Fair," said Bors,
"A holy day, all wove with peace. Nor Gods
Nor men would stir their strife this day of days."
"We all shall see," the gatekeeper replied.
Beside his King upon the dais came
And played a serenade upon his horn
That rang throughout the keep and lands beyond.
A time did pass with no response recieved --
Slain silent was the raptness of the court --
But then through open pain in stainéd glass
A thrush did bob and weave in melody,
On finger of the Queen he briefly perched
Before he flit away upon the air.
His song so sweet, but then - what fright! No more!
A hawk had entered, just the same, and swooped,
And now the thrush was silent in his claws.
The cabinet of augers all took note
And sketched their calculations into books,
Though none, in this, more wise than Gafaelfawr
To whom the hawk said "Hail, you man of rank
Who speaks the tongue of wing-in-air. Now hark!
'Twas not in hunger slew this thrush, but fear
That what I have to tell might go unheard.
My family, we roost near Cornwall's sea
And late, the noises off the coast grew strange
As if some evil kraken raged at love.
My chicks; my wife and I; we're simple hawks.
We eat and some of us are eaten, yet
Beware the thing that slouched from out the waves.
His shape is something like a boar, but huge,
He dwarfs his kin, and hill, and oak,
This hall is large, yet he'd be stuck inside.
He does not eat what he has killed, instead
He smears the bloodied flesh on stones and trees,
What man could face a fear that bears this face?
If you could hear the rutting squeals he makes!
I swear this sooth by wind and waving plumes:
You men who craft with metal, hark!
Destroy the beast!" And then he flew away
Still calling after him "Destroy the beast!"

The court at large had heard the warbling hawk
But did not know the tongue, so only watched
Glewlwyd's unease upon his face
Until with stiff and rasping voice relayed
The content of the predatory news.
Unease began to show among the knights,
For many there recalled a beast so shaped
And all the blood and guile he took to drown
The first time. Arthur, grim, forbade Sir Kay
And Gwalchmai face these perils by themselves,
But recommended regiment of steel
To bolster ranks against the fearsome boar.
"I know this foe from days of old," he said,
His years of rule etched rough across his face,
"And so do most of you, though many gone
And this monstrosity not even slain."
But Gwalchmai said "'Twas hard indeed to win
Those relics that he bore. Remember I
That Trwyth was the name he chose, and we
Shall best him fair. Though not for trinkets now,
But with the zeal of mother guarding young:
This foe, Twrch Trwyth shall not raze the land
Nor wage a war against some peaceful ilk
While rounded table can beco
Benji James May 2017
I'm a write this one in blood
Straight from the arteries
Of my heart, I'm stuck
In situation overload
Currents on overflow
And I can't fight this feeling
Killing me slowly
(On the inside)
There's something deep in my soul
I'm losing, being taken over
I've lost all function in my body
Guess I'll just lay here on the floor
Can't find the will
To keep on walking anymore
Maybe I should just crawl
Nah leave me here
In this dark room
With just these memories of you

Crown me the King of failure
I failed myself
For believing your lies
I failed myself for thinking
There could have ever been a us
Crown me the King of failure
For failing myself
For not listening to what was being, said in my head

I'm crushed
Crashing my dreams
Wanted so bad to believe
You were the one
I got crushed
Betrayed by emotions
All over again
I've been, crushed.
Yeah crushed
Crushed, by love

Oh, girl, I'm not even
The slightest bit mad
I'm just really sad
That you would lie like this to me
You said that you trusted me
You said there was no boundary between us
Remember when you said that
How could you let those words come out?
When none of this was true
I won't suffer in your silence
I won't let that hurt form into violence
And in your ignorance
Maybe I hurt
Maybe I fall
But I won't let this destroy my soul

Crown me the King of failure
I failed myself
For believing your lies
I failed myself for thinking
There could have ever been a us
Crown me the King of failure
For failing myself
For not listening to what was being, said in my head

I'm crushed
Crashing my dreams
Wanted so bad to believe
You were the one
I got crushed
Betrayed by emotions
All over again
I've been, crushed
Yeah crushed
Crushed, by love.

Oh gotta stay strong
Keep holding on
Find a way to move on
Yeah gotta keep moving forward
Keep looking straight
And don't lose focus
Come on I know you know this
Never wanted to give up
Never wanted to give in
Thought we could have worked out everything
But your choice has been made
You never wanted me to stay
Why could you never just say that to me
Why couldn't you just be completely honest with me

Crown me the King of failure
I failed myself
For believing your lies
I failed myself for thinking
There could have ever been a us
Crown me the King of failure
For failing myself
For not listening to what was being, said in my head

I'm crushed
Crashing my dreams
Wanted so bad to believe
You were the one
I got crushed
Betrayed by emotions
All over again
I've been, crushed
Yeah crushed
Crushed, by love.

It's time to let go
Shut the door
You left me all alone
To work this out on my own
Typing lines on my phone
At least you were kind enough
To leave me new material
Got so much I could write an album
You'll never see me drowning
These emotions that you left,
were only a challenge.
Just a test
You didn't want me at my worst
You'll never get me at my best
All right, oh yes
I'm getting over it
Yeah I'm moving past this

Crown me the King of failure
I failed myself
For believing your lies
I failed myself for thinking
There could have ever been a us
Crown me the King of failure
For failing myself
For not listening to what was being, said in my head

I'm crushed
Crashing my dreams
Wanted so bad to believe
You were the one
I got crushed
Betrayed by emotions
All over again
I've been, crushed
Yeah crushed
Crushed, by love.

©2017 Written By Benji James
Oh, come to me in dreams, my love!
   I will not ask a dearer bliss;
Come with the starry beams, my love,
   And press mine eyelids with thy kiss.

’Twas thus, as ancient fables tell,
   Love visited a Grecian maid,
Till she disturbed the sacred spell,
   And woke to find her hopes betrayed.

But gentle sleep shall veil my sight,
   And Psyche’s lamp shall darkling be,
When, in the visions of the night,
   Thou dost renew thy vows to me.

Then come to me in dreams, my love,
   I will not ask a dearer bliss;
Come with the starry beams, my love,
   And press mine eyelids with thy kiss.
Katie Nicole May 2014
your old socks haunt me
as they linger in my drawer

Touching all my innocent matched pairs.

you had slipped them to me
one frosty night when the cold nipped at my toes

An act of a gentleman.


but now what am i to do?
you're gone, but your socks remain

Each opening of my drawer kindles the coldness I feel.

you and your socks betrayed me
none of you comfort me anymore

*But at least the socks decided to stay.
By this, sad Hero, with love unacquainted,
Viewing Leander’s face, fell down and fainted.
He kissed her and breathed life into her lips,
Wherewith as one displeased away she trips.
Yet, as she went, full often looked behind,
And many poor excuses did she find
To linger by the way, and once she stayed,
And would have turned again, but was afraid,
In offering parley, to be counted light.
So on she goes and in her idle flight
Her painted fan of curled plumes let fall,
Thinking to train Leander therewithal.
He, being a novice, knew not what she meant
But stayed, and after her a letter sent,
Which joyful Hero answered in such sort,
As he had hope to scale the beauteous fort
Wherein the liberal Graces locked their wealth,
And therefore to her tower he got by stealth.
Wide open stood the door, he need not climb,
And she herself before the pointed time
Had spread the board, with roses strowed the room,
And oft looked out, and mused he did not come.
At last he came.

O who can tell the greeting
These greedy lovers had at their first meeting.
He asked, she gave, and nothing was denied.
Both to each other quickly were affied.
Look how their hands, so were their hearts united,
And what he did she willingly requited.
(Sweet are the kisses, the embracements sweet,
When like desires and affections meet,
For from the earth to heaven is Cupid raised,
Where fancy is in equal balance peised.)
Yet she this rashness suddenly repented
And turned aside, and to herself lamented
As if her name and honour had been wronged
By being possessed of him for whom she longed.
Ay, and she wished, albeit not from her heart
That he would leave her turret and depart.
The mirthful god of amorous pleasure smiled
To see how he this captive nymph beguiled.
For hitherto he did but fan the fire,
And kept it down that it might mount the higher.
Now waxed she jealous lest his love abated,
Fearing her own thoughts made her to be hated.
Therefore unto him hastily she goes
And, like light Salmacis, her body throws
Upon his ***** where with yielding eyes
She offers up herself a sacrifice
To slake his anger if he were displeased.
O, what god would not therewith be appeased?
Like Aesop’s **** this jewel he enjoyed
And as a brother with his sister toyed
Supposing nothing else was to be done,
Now he her favour and good will had won.
But know you not that creatures wanting sense
By nature have a mutual appetence,
And, wanting organs to advance a step,
Moved by love’s force unto each other lep?
Much more in subjects having intellect
Some hidden influence breeds like effect.
Albeit Leander rude in love and raw,
Long dallying with Hero, nothing saw
That might delight him more, yet he suspected
Some amorous rites or other were neglected.
Therefore unto his body hers he clung.
She, fearing on the rushes to be flung,
Strived with redoubled strength; the more she strived
The more a gentle pleasing heat revived,
Which taught him all that elder lovers know.
And now the same gan so to scorch and glow
As in plain terms (yet cunningly) he craved it.
Love always makes those eloquent that have it.
She, with a kind of granting, put him by it
And ever, as he thought himself most nigh it,
Like to the tree of Tantalus, she fled
And, seeming lavish, saved her maidenhead.
Ne’er king more sought to keep his diadem,
Than Hero this inestimable gem.
Above our life we love a steadfast friend,
Yet when a token of great worth we send,
We often kiss it, often look thereon,
And stay the messenger that would be gone.
No marvel then, though Hero would not yield
So soon to part from that she dearly held.
Jewels being lost are found again, this never;
’Tis lost but once, and once lost, lost forever.

Now had the morn espied her lover’s steeds,
Whereat she starts, puts on her purple weeds,
And red for anger that he stayed so long
All headlong throws herself the clouds among.
And now Leander, fearing to be missed,
Embraced her suddenly, took leave, and kissed.
Long was he taking leave, and loath to go,
And kissed again as lovers use to do.
Sad Hero wrung him by the hand and wept
Saying, “Let your vows and promises be kept.”
Then standing at the door she turned about
As loath to see Leander going out.
And now the sun that through th’ horizon peeps,
As pitying these lovers, downward creeps,
So that in silence of the cloudy night,
Though it was morning, did he take his flight.
But what the secret trusty night concealed
Leander’s amorous habit soon revealed.
With Cupid’s myrtle was his bonnet crowned,
About his arms the purple riband wound
Wherewith she wreathed her largely spreading hair.
Nor could the youth abstain, but he must wear
The sacred ring wherewith she was endowed
When first religious chastity she vowed.
Which made his love through Sestos to be known,
And thence unto Abydos sooner blown
Than he could sail; for incorporeal fame
Whose weight consists in nothing but her name,
Is swifter than the wind, whose tardy plumes
Are reeking water and dull earthly fumes.
Home when he came, he seemed not to be there,
But, like exiled air ****** from his sphere,
Set in a foreign place; and straight from thence,
Alcides like, by mighty violence
He would have chased away the swelling main
That him from her unjustly did detain.
Like as the sun in a diameter
Fires and inflames objects removed far,
And heateth kindly, shining laterally,
So beauty sweetly quickens when ’tis nigh,
But being separated and removed,
Burns where it cherished, murders where it loved.
Therefore even as an index to a book,
So to his mind was young Leander’s look.
O, none but gods have power their love to hide,
Affection by the countenance is descried.
The light of hidden fire itself discovers,
And love that is concealed betrays poor lovers,
His secret flame apparently was seen.
Leander’s father knew where he had been
And for the same mildly rebuked his son,
Thinking to quench the sparkles new begun.
But love resisted once grows passionate,
And nothing more than counsel lovers hate.
For as a hot proud horse highly disdains
To have his head controlled, but breaks the reins,
Spits forth the ringled bit, and with his hooves
Checks the submissive ground; so he that loves,
The more he is restrained, the worse he fares.
What is it now, but mad Leander dares?
“O Hero, Hero!” thus he cried full oft;
And then he got him to a rock aloft,
Where having spied her tower, long stared he on’t,
And prayed the narrow toiling Hellespont
To part in twain, that he might come and go;
But still the rising billows answered, “No.”
With that he stripped him to the ivory skin
And, crying “Love, I come,” leaped lively in.
Whereat the sapphire visaged god grew proud,
And made his capering Triton sound aloud,
Imagining that Ganymede, displeased,
Had left the heavens; therefore on him he seized.
Leander strived; the waves about him wound,
And pulled him to the bottom, where the ground
Was strewed with pearl, and in low coral groves
Sweet singing mermaids sported with their loves
On heaps of heavy gold, and took great pleasure
To spurn in careless sort the shipwrack treasure.
For here the stately azure palace stood
Where kingly Neptune and his train abode.
The ***** god embraced him, called him “Love,”
And swore he never should return to Jove.
But when he knew it was not Ganymede,
For under water he was almost dead,
He heaved him up and, looking on his face,
Beat down the bold waves with his triple mace,
Which mounted up, intending to have kissed him,
And fell in drops like tears because they missed him.
Leander, being up, began to swim
And, looking back, saw Neptune follow him,
Whereat aghast, the poor soul ‘gan to cry
“O, let me visit Hero ere I die!”
The god put Helle’s bracelet on his arm,
And swore the sea should never do him harm.
He clapped his plump cheeks, with his tresses played
And, smiling wantonly, his love bewrayed.
He watched his arms and, as they opened wide
At every stroke, betwixt them would he slide
And steal a kiss, and then run out and dance,
And, as he turned, cast many a lustful glance,
And threw him gaudy toys to please his eye,
And dive into the water, and there pry
Upon his breast, his thighs, and every limb,
And up again, and close beside him swim,
And talk of love.

Leander made reply,
“You are deceived; I am no woman, I.”
Thereat smiled Neptune, and then told a tale,
How that a shepherd, sitting in a vale,
Played with a boy so fair and kind,
As for his love both earth and heaven pined;
That of the cooling river durst not drink,
Lest water nymphs should pull him from the brink.
And when he sported in the fragrant lawns,
Goat footed satyrs and upstaring fauns
Would steal him thence. Ere half this tale was done,
“Ay me,” Leander cried, “th’ enamoured sun
That now should shine on Thetis’ glassy bower,
Descends upon my radiant Hero’s tower.
O, that these tardy arms of mine were wings!”
And, as he spake, upon the waves he springs.
Neptune was angry that he gave no ear,
And in his heart revenging malice bare.
He flung at him his mace but, as it went,
He called it in, for love made him repent.
The mace, returning back, his own hand hit
As meaning to be venged for darting it.
When this fresh bleeding wound Leander viewed,
His colour went and came, as if he rued
The grief which Neptune felt. In gentle *******
Relenting thoughts, remorse, and pity rests.
And who have hard hearts and obdurate minds,
But vicious, harebrained, and illiterate hinds?
The god, seeing him with pity to be moved,
Thereon concluded that he was beloved.
(Love is too full of faith, too credulous,
With folly and false hope deluding us.)
Wherefore, Leander’s fancy to surprise,
To the rich Ocean for gifts he flies.
’tis wisdom to give much; a gift prevails
When deep persuading oratory fails.

By this Leander, being near the land,
Cast down his weary feet and felt the sand.
Breathless albeit he were he rested not
Till to the solitary tower he got,
And knocked and called. At which celestial noise
The longing heart of Hero much more joys
Than nymphs and shepherds when the timbrel rings,
Or crooked dolphin when the sailor sings.
She stayed not for her robes but straight arose
And, drunk with gladness, to the door she goes,
Where seeing a naked man, she screeched for fear
(Such sights as this to tender maids are rare)
And ran into the dark herself to hide.
(Rich jewels in the dark are soonest spied).
Unto her was he led, or rather drawn
By those white limbs which sparkled through the lawn.
The nearer that he came, the more she fled,
And, seeking refuge, slipped into her bed.
Whereon Leander sitting thus began,
Through numbing cold, all feeble, faint, and wan.
“If not for love, yet, love, for pity sake,
Me in thy bed and maiden ***** take.
At least vouchsafe these arms some little room,
Who, hoping to embrace thee, cheerly swum.
This head was beat with many a churlish billow,
And therefore let it rest upon thy pillow.”
Herewith affrighted, Hero shrunk away,
And in her lukewarm place Leander lay,
Whose lively heat, like fire from heaven fet,
Would animate gross clay and higher set
The drooping thoughts of base declining souls
Than dreary Mars carousing nectar bowls.
His hands he cast upon her like a snare.
She, overcome with shame and sallow fear,
Like chaste Diana when Actaeon spied her,
Being suddenly betrayed, dived down to hide her.
And, as her silver body downward went,
With both her hands she made the bed a tent,
And in her own mind thought herself secure,
O’ercast with dim and darksome coverture.
And now she lets him whisper in her ear,
Flatter, entreat, promise, protest and swear;
Yet ever, as he greedily assayed
To touch those dainties, she the harpy played,
And every limb did, as a soldier stout,
Defend the fort, and keep the foeman out.
For though the rising ivory mount he scaled,
Which is with azure circling lines empaled,
Much like a globe (a globe may I term this,
By which love sails to regions full of bliss)
Yet there with Sisyphus he toiled in vain,
Till gentle parley did the truce obtain.
Wherein Leander on her quivering breast
Breathless spoke something, and sighed out the rest;
Which so prevailed, as he with small ado
Enclosed her in his arms and kissed her too.
And every kiss to her was as a charm,
And to Leander as a fresh alarm,
So that the truce was broke and she, alas,
(Poor silly maiden) at his mercy was.
Love is not full of pity (as men say)
But deaf and cruel where he means to prey.
Even as a bird, which in our hands we wring,
Forth plungeth and oft flutters with her wing,
She trembling strove.

This strife of hers (like that
Which made the world) another world begat
Of unknown joy. Treason was in her thought,
And cunningly to yield herself she sought.
Seeming not won, yet won she was at length.
In such wars women use but half their strength.
Leander now, like Theban Hercules,
Entered the orchard of th’ Hesperides;
Whose fruit none rightly can describe but he
That pulls or shakes it from the golden tree.
And now she wished this night were never done,
And sighed to think upon th’ approaching sun;
For much it grieved her that the bright daylight
Should know the pleasure of this blessed night,
And them, like Mars and Erycine, display
Both in each other’s arms chained as they lay.
Again, she knew not how to frame her look,
Or speak to him, who in a moment took
That which so long so charily she kept,
And fain by stealth away she would have crept,
And to some corner secretly have gone,
Leaving Leander in the bed alone.
But as her naked feet were whipping out,
He on the sudden clinged her so about,
That, mermaid-like, unto the floor she slid.
One half appeared, the other half was hid.
Thus near the bed she blushing stood upright,
And from her countenance behold ye might
A kind of twilight break, which through the hair,
As from an orient cloud, glimpsed here and there,
And round about the chamber this false morn
Brought forth the day before the day was born.
So Hero’s ruddy cheek Hero betrayed,
And her all naked to his sight displayed,
Whence his admiring eyes more pleasure took
Than Dis, on heaps of gold fixing his look.
By this, Apollo’s golden harp began
To sound forth music to the ocean,
Which watchful Hesperus no sooner heard
But he the bright day-bearing car prepared
And ran before, as harbinger of light,
And with his flaring beams mocked ugly night,
Till she, o’ercome with anguish, shame, and rage,
Danged down to hell her loathsome carriage.
Amaranthine Jun 2014
Faintest escape
Like sand through fingers
Unnecessary explanations
As to why you disappoint me
Speak the truth, worm

Your locket heart withers
Releasing the picture of abandonment
Fool, I am no fool
I am above your rule
Amanda J Jan 2015
The things
That build you
Are the things
That will break you
it hurts
jeffrey robin Aug 2010
have we been betrayed or are we the betrayers?

solitary happiness? ...........what the truth?  what the lie?

if 2 times 3 does not equal 7.........?
what then my friend?

since the wtc towers could not have fallen as they say what is it we call government?

have we been  betrayed or are we the betrayers?

there are so many people all around

good people!  can't we tell?

have we been betrayed or are we the betrayers?

american foreign policy?  since the wtc towers...........!?

there are so many people all around

writing love poems about not being in love

have we been betrayed or are we the betrayers

there are so many people all around
WS Warner Oct 2011
Static, memories
Emanating, separating  
The postcard- perfect
Still life speaks
From its storied past.
Invisible, to drift
Among  
The florid aphorisms,
Ending in
Deleterious debris,
Aftermath of
The inevitable.

Empty room, echo hollow
Tabula rasa -
Carpet clean, quite candid in it's
Return to callow.
Consciousness athirst,
Absorbing phenomena
Effervesce, inquisitive
Ideas foment,
Sealed inside a question.
The what -
Against the narrow
Scarcity,
And fatigue of should.

A tender malleable
Youth,
Betrayed, under
An assumed decorum -
Residue of truth,
Flattened emotion
Privations of a self
Unheard;
Misplaced affirmation,
Buried pathologies  
In architecture
Fear manifests symbolic.

Harboring apathy
The lunacy of pious
Pedigree,
Import contagion,
Fetters of benignity
Doubt and indecision  
Into ******
Cognizance,
Fallow spirits
Seep fumes of decay,
Credulity bleeds a human stain.

Social edifice, inoculated  
Heirs of neurosis;
Palpable, sensual pain
And transience, though
Tacit - remain,
Our haunted history,
The blind hyperbole,
Maudlin
Forbearance, this haven,
A portrait
Of immaculate condition,
Nurtured with precision
Under sterling pretense.

Provincial domicile -
House beautiful,
Savage irony -
Unseen treasure
Innocence unabridged,
Faces, tiny creations;
Compliant vessels
Wounded,  
While modernism murmurs  
Its promise.

Brave New World,
In a late model sedan,
Domestic ranch on a
Corner lot,
Suburban natives,
Silence means security.
The misunderstood
Speak louder -
Consumerism beneath    
Unvarnished ambition,
Never could
Repair the brokenness within...

© 2011 & 2018 W. S. Warner
I harvested the stars
And burnt the moon
Just to season your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a pure xylophone
And have created a rhythm for it,

I wept over agony
And pierced my heart
Just to feel your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a valuable coin
And have not traded it,

I rejected the dawn
And sealed the river source
Just to hear your love,
But you have now
Found yourself an everlasting fountain
And have drunk as much as you could,

I mended the rocks
And fought the storms
Just to hear your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a secret cornerstone
And have leaned on it comfortably,

I bit my fingers
And chewed the palm kernels
Just to sing your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a better tune
And have danced to it,

I buried the clouds
And drunk the sea
Just to call your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a basket full of roses
And have planted a sea of it,

I blurred the firelight
And strolled over the sea waves
Just to dance your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a new moon
And it brightens your night always,

I betrayed my heart
And performed with the fiend
Just to dance your love,
But you have now
Found yourself a true woman
And have betrayed my love.

© PRINCE NANA ANIN-AGYEI
Email: nanaspeaks@gmail.com
Benji James Apr 2018
VERSE ONE
She's bleeding from her lip
From every time he hit
Can't believe that she
Just turned up on my doorstep
Looking like this
And all that I can think
Is how much I want to **** him
Better help her in
Come on let's get you cleaned up
Tell me what happened
Tell me everything he did
Firstly let me clean the bloodstains
from beneath your lips
Wipe the smudged mascara
from beneath your eyes
Seeing you hurt like this
Hurts me deep inside
Gotta be strong for you
Make sure you're comforted
Reassure you everything is gonna be alright
Meanwhile, body temperatures raising
As anger boils deep within
All these thoughts come flooding in

PRE CHORUS
I'm not sure I can keep
All of this rage caged
Killer instincts kicking in
And all I want is revenge on him
For treating you like this
Gotta stay calm,
Keep this girls mind at ease
Help her rest and heal
And as I wipe the blood from your lips
ever so gently
As I wipe the tears from your eyes
You look deep into mine
with every ounce of strength,
she had left she said
please don't go after him
even after all he did

CHORUS
And as she takes my hand she says
You're different
All I need is for you to be there
I just need someone who really cares
Someone to wipe away these tears
You're the one guy who tames my fears
I don't need any more protection
then you already give
And I don't want you to end up like him
Even though the love I have for him
Runs deep, I see his faults
But I know his needs
And he is such a big part of my heart
His my addiction, my drug
Don't expect you to understand
I see the mess this is, I can't stop my love for him

VERSE TWO
All these words, I soak them in
All these thoughts
are running up and down my mind
How could she not let me step in
This hurting could stop right here
I'm giving her everything,
She just wants me to sit back
Watch from the sidelines
While she takes on this fight
Why won't she let me stand at her side?
And all of this confusion envelops in me
I'm losing focus, Push this to the back of my head
Need to take care of her here and now
Because she needs you here most
I carry her into the bed tuck her in
As I crash back on the couch
All of the things she said to me replay

PRE CHORUS
I'm not sure I can keep
All of this rage caged
Killer instincts kicking in
And all I want is revenge on him
For treating you like this
Gotta stay calm,
Keep this girls mind at ease
Help her rest and heal
And as I wipe the blood from your lips
ever so gently
As I wipe the tears from your eyes
You look deep into mine
with every ounce of strength,
she had left she said
please don't go after him
even after all he did

CHORUS
And as she takes my hand she says
You're different
All I need is for you to be there
I just need someone who really cares
Someone to wipe away these tears
You're the one guy who tames my fears
I don't need any more protection
then you already give
And I don't want you to end up like him
Even though the love I have for him
Runs deep, I see his faults
But I know his needs
And he is such a big part of my heart
His my addiction, my drug
Don't expect you to understand
I see the mess this is, I can't stop my love for him

VERSE THREE
As I wake the next morn
I go to the bedroom to check on her
I see an empty bed well made
on the bedside desk, a neat note laid
Saying thank you for everything you did
Repairing and mending me back to health
I couldn't have a better friend
Sorry I left before you awoke
Just had to get home
Just want you to know
I'm thankful and grateful for all that you are
You'll always be the brightest shining star
Guiding and watching me from afar
And as cheesy as it sounds
It brings a smile to my face
And for a slight moment concern leaves my conscience
But I hold out hope everything is gonna be okay
That's when images of last night run before my eyes

PRE CHORUS
I'm not sure I can keep
All of this rage caged
Killer instincts kicking in
And all I want is revenge on him
For treating you like this
Gotta stay calm,
Keep this girls mind at ease
Help her rest and heal
And as I wipe the blood from your lips
ever so gently
As I wipe the tears from your eyes
You look deep into mine
with every ounce of strength,
she had left she said
please don't go after him
even after all he did

CHORUS
And as she takes my hand she says
You're different
All I need is for you to be there
I just need someone who really cares
Someone to wipe away these tears
You're the one guy who tames my fears
I don't need any more protection
then you already give
And I don't want you to end up like him
Even though the love I have for him
Runs deep, I see his faults
But I know his needs
And he is such a big part of my heart
His my addiction, my drug
Don't expect you to understand
I see the mess this is, I can't stop my love for him

VERSE FOUR
Another night, another microwave meal
It's been a while since she last came over
Must be working out,
the counselling must be helping them now
And for once in my life I'm relieved
Knowing she's happy calms my mind
I watch the clock tick time passes by
through montaged scenes
This feels like a happy ending to this story
And photographs of you and I
Are packed in a box
I only open it up from time to time
Childhood memories captured in polaroid frames
I like reminiscing about all those good times
Everything was different then
Together just you and I
Hanging every day and every night
until you moved on with your life
that is just a perfect memory captured in my mind

PRE CHORUS
All of this rage is caged
Calm and content I've stayed
The revenge I wanted on him
Has been forgotten
Even after all he did
I'm calm, breathing and relaxed
My minds at ease
We're both rested and healed
The bloodstained cloths
that cleansed your lips are cleaned
ever so gently you're easing my emotions
As I wipe the tears from my eyes
I think of the way you always look into mine
with every ounce of strength,
You've made me a better man
She was right in what she said
even after all he did

CHORUS
Still feel the tender touch of your hand
And I remember every word she said
You're different
All I need is for you to be there
I just need someone who really cares
Someone to wipe away these tears
You're the one guy who tames my fears
I don't need any more protection
then you already give
And I don't want you to end up like him
Even though the love I have for him
Runs deep, I see his faults
But I know his needs
And he is such a big part of my heart
His my addiction, my drug
Don't expect you to understand
I see the mess this is, I can't stop my love for him
And all I can think is how lucky he is
To have a girl like you

VERSE FIVE
As I sit on my couch watching tv
It's been months since she last seen me
When I hear a soft knock at the door
I open it up to see you sitting on the pavement
outside of my front door
she is leaning against the brick wall
Head in her hands, crying
Tears constantly streaming down her cheeks
Bruised arms, black eyes
She looked at me and said
I'm bleeding from my lip
From when he hit
That sentence just tore me to bits
Gotta be strong, Take care of her first
Then I'll hunt him down and make him hurt
Shes covered in scratches, puffy eyes
He really lost control this time
And I'm about to lose mine
I pick her up and bring her in
Pull out the first aid kit,
A warm washer to clean her up
Every dab soft and tender to the touch
I won't hurt you like him ever
I'm the one who will make this all better

PRE CHORUS
I'm not sure I can keep
All of this rage caged
Killer instincts kicking in
And all I want is revenge on him
For treating you like this
Gotta stay calm,
Keep this girls mind at ease
Help her rest and heal
And as I wipe the blood from your lips
ever so gently
As I wipe the tears from your eyes
You look deep into mine
with every ounce of strength,
she had left she said
please don't go after him
even after all he did

CHORUS
And as she takes my hand she says
You're different
All I need is for you to be there
I just need someone who really cares
Someone to wipe away these tears
You're the one guy who tames my fears
I don't need any more protection
then you already give
And I don't want you to end up like him
Even though the love I have for him
Runs deep, I see his faults
But I know his needs
And he is such a big part of my heart
His my addiction, my drug
Don't expect you to understand
I see the mess this is, I can't stop my love for him

VERSE SIX
That time those words don't cut it
Now the hunters become the hunted
I tuck her into bed to sleep
stay with her until she falls into dreams
I watch her smile and breathe as she lays peacefully asleep
I go around to her house just when he walks out
I strike him hard and fast, I made him bleed so much blood
All the pain he put her through I made sure he felt that too
I couldn't keep that rage caged
had to let it out and get revenge
One day she will understand
I did what was best for her
I won't ever let her hurt
He got a few shots in
But nothing compared to what I did to him
Stitches in my hand and brow
I left him hospitalised
I'll never forget the look she gave
when she found out

PRE CHORUS
I tried to explain
I couldn't keep this rage caged
Killer instincts kicked in
And I got my revenge on him
For treating you like this
Didn't stay calm
Didn't keep her mind at ease
Help her rest and heal
I wiped the blood from her lips
I wiped the tears from your eyes
What he did to you killed me inside
with every ounce of strength,
And everything I am
I went after him
after all, he did

CHORUS
This time she didn't take my hand
And I knew I wasn't going to be a fan
of what she had to say
I regret putting my trust and faith in you
You aren't different
All I needed was for you to be there
I just needed someone who really cared
Someone to wipe away these tears
You were the one guy who tamed my fears
I didn't need any more protection
that you hadn't already given
I didn't want you to be like him
Violence never solved anything
I was ready to leave him for you
You went against everything I said
My love and admiration for you ran deep,
I see your faults
I know your needs
But now you have betrayed me
You were such a big part of my heart
You could have been my addiction, my drug
I was hoping you would listen and understand
Not go after him like you did
I can see the mess this is, my hearts been shattered
Beyond repair, I never want to see you again
Those lines run on repeat through my head.

©2018 Written By Benji James
I see you drinking at a fountain with tiny
blue hands, no, your hands are not tiny
they are small, and the fountain is in France
where you wrote me that last letter and
I answered and never heard from you again.
you used to write insane poems about
ANGELS AND GOD, all in upper case, and you
knew famous artists and most of them
were your lovers, and I wrote back, it' all right,
go ahead, enter their lives, I' not jealous
because we' never met. we got close once in
New Orleans, one half block, but never met, never
touched. so you went with the famous and wrote
about the famous, and, of course, what you found out
is that the famous are worried about
their fame -- not the beautiful young girl in bed
with them, who gives them that, and then awakens
in the morning to write upper case poems about
ANGELS AND GOD. we know God is dead, they' told
us, but listening to you I wasn' sure. maybe
it was the upper case. you were one of the
best female poets and I told the publishers,
editors, " her, print her, she' mad but she'
magic. there' no lie in her fire." I loved you
like a man loves a woman he never touches, only
writes to, keeps little photographs of. I would have
loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a
cigarette and listened to you **** in the bathroom,
but that didn' happen. your letters got sadder.
your lovers betrayed you. kid, I wrote back, all
lovers betray. it didn' help. you said
you had a crying bench and it was by a bridge and
the bridge was over a river and you sat on the crying
bench every night and wept for the lovers who had
hurt and forgotten you. I wrote back but never
heard again. a friend wrote me of your suicide
3 or 4 months after it happened. if I had met you
I would probably have been unfair to you or you
to me. it was best like this.
I talk words of lust
with a boy unaware
I know not if it's unjust
if he knew that i would dare

To be touching lips with another
and another after that
3 boys who want me
and on top of that...

an ex-lover who awaits
her love to be reciprocated
by one she had wronged
by me, yes, I she has wronged.

and alas, the sister of a friend
whom i am confused upon
if i should love her or not
fool, you may think that she is the last one

another girl at school
she is but a year older
i see her from time to time
rarely i seek for her

she is but a crush
the sister, but a dream
the ex-lover - such a waste
and though it may seem

that i am an adultress
because of all these men
but judge me not
i don't belong to any of them

commit, you say
it is for the best
but if i do so again
i may have to rip out my chest

it hurts beyond words
and the pain - i may not be able to bare
and i'd have to swallow the hurt again
till i am too numb to give a care

so tell me, kind stranger, what would you do?
if you had 3 boys and 1 girl loving you
another girl, you might love
and another girl, as a crush
don't you think it's a tad bit too much?

though, i can't control it
I need to be reassured
that though my love betrayed me
this broken vessel be cured

by something more real
it has to exist
something i wont be afraid to love
something far greater than a kiss

something others cant take from me
something thats just mine
something that i can have
and keep for all time

so tell me, kind stranger, do you take me for a fool?
you think i don't know that such thing is hard to find?
that it is but impossible
because i am still so blind

i'll find my happiness
i pray to the gods i do
but only once i stop thinking of finding it
is when id find you

you. whom i have poured my heart and soul out to
without giving a rat's ***
one i'm not afraid of - i'm afraid of everything.
you, who is not wearing a mask.

if you tell me that you're right there
id lose all faith in man kind
because i know you're not
i know that now.

if you tell me you wont hurt me
don't say another word
because i know you will hurt me
i know that now.

but i can love myself
i can live for myself, too
i know that now
i don't exactly have to live for you.

it is my life
this is my world
but i'm lonely
because i'm too scared to be that broken hearted girl

the one who cried
the one who swore
and hit her lover
and walked out the door

even if i could
i wouldn't change a thing
because through this mangled heart
i can love true again

someday..
March 17, 2011

— The End —