Emperor’s Quest Part 1
Part 35 of Quest
& Part 2 of Istan’s Solo Quest: Chasing the Cross
Broken, he lay felled
by blood loss and magic’s drain;
lines quelled the storm’s bane…
~ ~ ~
Glittering lines drawn in the earth with blood,
infused by magic that remains when gods
fall from mythic pantheons; bad with good,
all mixed, no discerning which of the gods
are humanity’s friends and which are foes.
Face down he lays as villagers peek through
doors shuttered against the storm that cannot go
through the lines the prone man made with blood so
soaked with magic it glows to mortal eyes
that size him up, wondering at the prize
dropped by a mysterious portal; wise
to ways of both men and gods, the painted
man approaches the one their hearts sainted…
~ ~ ~
The painted man carried the broken god back to his hut. Skin like snow, hair like clouds, long limbed like icicles that form from falling water, this sorrow cloaked godling weighed little. Perhaps he’d bled all his substance into the thirsty earth.
He stepped over a gleaming line in the earth that had stalled the storm overhead and prevented it from passing. Old magic wove an invisible basket inside which nestled the village, safe from damaging hail and wind.
Stepping in front of a curious child, he stared down at the braided head until it tilted back and scared eyes met his.
“Don’t touch the lines. They protect us. Pass the word.”
The boy nodded and scampered off shouting his warning.
Zallev entered his hut and laid their pale savior down. He had the look of the northern barbarians but not their ways, which had clued him into the divine nature of his unconscious guest. That and, last he checked, marauding barbarians didn’t step out of portals that hung in the middle of the steppes. Thank God for that mercy. ‘Twas bad enough when they rode in on broken nags.
“What you got there…” asked a voice so brittle it snapped after uttering four words, leaving his painted lips to flap in silence. Sucking in a breath, the old mound of paint and withered skin held together by a loincloth and a moth eaten sash, tried again to form his question. Air whistled out but no words came.
“What is it old father?” Zallev ladled water from a bucket and held it out to the headsman.
He shook his head and from his fingers fell a card. Not the pilgrim’s card as Zallev had expected, but the emperor’s card. A blade sprouted between the headsman’s ribs, cleaved his heart in half and then withdrew. Crumpling to the ground, already dead from his wound, he revealed his killer: the Witch of the Waves. She dropped her harpoon onto the sand and the image of her standing on a rocky shore faded but not before her words struck him physical blows.
it sprouts from seeds long planted.
Its roots sink deep.”
“What treachery? Why did you kill an old man?” Zallev shouted but with a shake of the head that set her raven tresses flying in the same wind that tugged on her ruffled gown, she vanished. Leaving him perplexed, her departure, sudden as always, meant the witch was watching him again. He didn’t recognize the jacket she’d worn, so heavy with gold braid that it must have weighed her down. Yet she’d stood tall, her hair as braided as her coat, his mother, the Witch of the Waves, interfering in her grown son’s life again.
He stared not at the body of a man he had known for most of his life and hated for about half that time, but at the tarot card. He picked it up and on its back he found a wave pattern that mimicked a rough sea. It was from her deck but what did it mean? His mother hadn’t sent the card via a disposable messenger. She didn’t have the power nor the kind of flexible morals that allowed such an act. Yet this card had come from her deck.
Nogoran’s body crumbled into dust that sifted into the ground that opened to devour him while Zallev stood there woolgathering. Zallev backed across the threshold of his deceased father’s hut into safety. Movement snapped his gaze to the village’s center which he could glimpse between two huts. The real Nogoran hobbled about spouting nonsense meant to rile the villagers into expelling their savior. As if that would happen. Foolish man.
Zallev shut the door; sight of Nogoran hale and hearty brought him no relief. Just as the man’s seeming death had caused him no grief. No, never could he feel grief for the man who’d sheared his father’s head from his shoulders. Nevermind that the man had earned such a death.
Fingering the card, he remembered salty breezes, days of swimming and falling asleep in a hut by the sea, cradled in his mother’s arms. Her blue hair braided down her back; dimples that appeared when she had smiled and she’d hidden tarot cards in her pockets. He saw the Emperor’s card held between her index finger and ink-stained thumb. The murmuring of the sea blended with her husky voice as she spoke:
“Mind over matter,
Logic over emotion,
The Emperor’s just.”
More than that, it stood for self-mastery.
Was this card a sign that she’d finally
let him go, let him solve life’s mysteries
on his own? A sign that he finally
knew enough of the old wisdom to take
that next step, go from learner to pilgrim
and take up his heart’s quest–a quest whose stakes
rose higher with every passing hour grim
skies obscured the sun and him who had saved
them lay, unconscious, his mind missing, gone
on ahead of his body that had caved
from jagged rocks that had cut and bled, drawn
out his magic and perhaps his life force,
leaving his mind to stumble ’bout off course.
~ ~ ~
He tends the old god;
spreads salves on hurts made to save.
Villagers walk safe.
~ ~ ~
Istan’s Quest continues in Emperor’s Quest Part 2
Looking for more Quests? Click here for more Quests.
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Emperor’s Quest incorporated the following prompts:
Woman with harpoon photo by Caroline Knopf courtesy of Magpie Tales #305; Sunday Whirligig #47; A Dash of Sunny: When Myth Meets Poetry; Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie Writing Prompt 146 “The Emperor”; Color Your World: Lavender, Macaroni and Cheese; The Daily Post’s “Connection.”