The Birthspear of Alisca – Part 2
The late evening in Farralone was parched like dry tinder. Fires were lit beside the village wells for a Fighting Feast and soon the blood of the village was singing. After hours of dancing, the firelight slowly settled onto the waters of the moat. The story-telling began. The Stories of a village were its identity, more so than even its name. Spoken aloud, the Stories recited the histories of struggle, the loves and the lives of all the ancestors and mothers of the village. The Stories were the lifeblood of the village spirits.
A fingernail sliver of moonlight had sailed deep into the stars above when one of the elders finally nodded to Alisca. She stood before the crowd to tell the story of her mother, Anya, the greatest Earthmother the village had ever know. She told the story of how Anya had been kidnapped by the Cliff Dwellers when she was twelve and how the girl returned months later with her life and sanity intact by teaching her captors how to find lobsters, a trick of the village that the Cliff Dwellers greatly admired. She told the story of how Anya cured the village of fever by staying up all night for five nights, burning torches over the village wells. Then much later, with her audience breathless, she told the story of how Anya had loved her father, Finbar.
The fire grew to its brightest now and Alisca stood near the heat, her flowing voice carrying over the sound of the crackling wood. She felt the eyes of the Prince on hers as if he was brushing her face with his fingers. She spoke only to the still, shadowy figure, half hidden behind the firelight…
… The lightning bolt shattered the center mast in the birthing chamber and the entire structure began to collapse. Finbar gathered the wailing newborn into his arms and raced into the raging storm. As he hurried back to where his wife lay, the roof collapsed with a leaden roar. Finbar fell to his knees in the mud and added his voice to the keening winds.
They used the dried remains of the hut to cremate Anya’s body two days later. All night, the fires burned – bright, loud and high. The following morning, while the embers were still hot, Finbar walked amongst the debris. He selected the largest piece and began to carve a longman’s spear from the blackened wood. This was strange behaviour but, as he was in mourning, the Firehut decided to let him be. For nearly ten weeks he spoke very little and worked on the wood, whittling it down until it was had the thickness of his wrist, straight and as black as night. Two elegantly carved grips inlaid with leather were wrapped into the shaft and at its tip nestled a sharp shining metal arrowhead, re-molded from his wife’s pendant. Finbar found Alisca suckling from her Housemother’s breast. He presented the beautiful weapon to the infant. With her tiny fingers, she reached for the Birthspear and laughed…
In one flowing motion, Alisca grasped the top handle from over her shoulder and slid the Birthspear from its harness. With a razor-sharp battle cry, she twirled it high above her head. Her story was complete. The village cheered and drummed their feet while the Prince chapped his hands together in the strange custom of the court. Alisca was welcomed over by the elders and she sat close to the Prince for the rest of the banquet, drinking apple wine and laughing with the others.
The Prince was absolutely captivated by this young woman. Her long limbs were made of gold in the firelight and her lips shone as she spoke, despite the heat and dust in the air. A longing rose in his chest that stilled his breath and dried his mouth.
Caohimin sat on the far side of the fire and spoke to nobody as the firelight slowly died in his eyes.
The sun rose to meet the Fighting Party galloping across the headland towards Inniscraigh. The Prince and Finbar led the train of sixty horses. Caohimin rode beside Alisca but she never noticed his raging silence. Instead she listened to the Prince speak to his horse and issue commands to his men. Finbar matched him and the two groups practiced manoeuvres together; soon they could anticipate each others’ formations. When they stopped halfway to rest of the night, both leaders were very pleased with their progress.
The next morning, when they entered the domain of Inniscraigh, the local men began to sing loudly so that any patrols or sentries nearby would hear them and know that they approached under a Peacebranch. But nobody appeared to challenge or escort them. By the time they entered the Gassinaght Forest, the Prince had become unnerved, as this was very much against custom. As they splashed through the River San and began to ride up into the valley of Inniscraigh village, the horses became agitated, clearly disturbed by something in the air. The Prince ordered silence and Finbar silently commanded both groups into two diamond formations.
They burst out of the forest and into a wide sloping grassland which rose towards a high ridge. Their eyes were filled with the sight of an enormous column of thick black smoke pumping high over the Inniscraigh headland and drifting out to sea. The entire sight resembled a giant darkening oak tree growing into the morning sky. It lay directly above the village of Inniscraigh, still hidden from view by the gradient before them.
The two leaders quickly quelled curses and groans of fear and loathing. A nod passed between them and the Prince roared an order they had practiced many times the day before: “Arrowhead and follow my lead!”
Alisca soon found herself thumping her mount into a gallop. The Fighting Party raced up the final hill. Finbar led the Party with a battle song on one side. The Prince drew his long sword on the other, casting shards of sunlight all around. Alisca remembered thinking that she had never felt so happy or so strong and that she was ready for whatever would greet them on the other side.
But she was wrong. Nothing in her short life could have prepared her for the sight of the Inniscraigh homelands laid entirely to waste. A purple haze hung like a shroud over the entire valley below, drifting slowly inland and carrying the deep stench of death. Blackened stumps and burning holes in the Earth were all that remained of the village, fuelling the mountainous clouds which filled the heavens above. The harbor had been smashed into burning firewood, floating in the bay with the scattered hulks of the fishing fleet. Thousands of bodies lay broken and scattered in the fields. Everything seemed to be alight.
In a ragged line, the charging riders dragged their mounts to a halt. Miles out in the bay, a giant vessel unlike anything they had ever seen before was moving out into the current and around the headland. Shaped like the shell of a giant turtle, no figures could be seen moving upon it.
Finbar whispered, “It shines in the sunlight… how can it be made of metal?” Out of the center of its hull, rose a thin tower with a bulbous tip which glowed like the setting sun. It reminded Alisca of a tulip flower. She noticed the glowing petals were just closing as the vessel turned East.
“And is it really moving against the tide and the wind?” Caohimin asked. “What kind of devilry can make a vessel do that?”
The Prince’s horse skittered beneath him; it could sense his anger. He dismounted and removed his gloves. “The attackers are moving much faster than even those chalk-headed intelligence officers in Court had estimated. They must be striking a populated headland every morning. They remain in the area until utter devastation prevails. That is why we have heard so very little news.”
Finbar nodded. “We are fortunate then to arrive in time to…” His voice trailed off as the implications of what the Prince had just said sank in.
The Prince stepped forward. He had removed his leather helmet and opened the buttons on his tunic. “My folly, countrymen. Farralone will be their next target. For my own dreams of glory, I have drawn all hope of a defence away from your village. I am to blame.”
The Prince stood before Finbar with his broad chest exposed. Alisca marveled at his courage as he waited for the death that ancient custom demanded. After a moment, her father drew a long blade from his saddlebags….
To be continued….