The flightless shadows darken pall
above the evening’s wrathful call
to arms of battle’s dark’ning door
by death of ling and blade of war.
I opened my eyes, the ominous strain swelling, and swept my hand in the air about me. The sun suddenly ceased to penetrate the tree boughs as a heavy gloom crushed the air, stifling the bird’s songs and bending the grass beneath my feet. A horn sounded, long and foreboding, as a host of armed soldiers burst from behind the trees before me. Their stout leader, golden hair snapping beneath his helm and eyes blazing, roared as he raised his sword. Icy sparks lit his wild gaze as his sword swept downward, sliced the air, and ripped through me. I flinched an instant before an agonized cry thrummed in my ears as the menacing warrior at my back, clad in dark, fell to his knees. A silent cry beat in my mind while the golden-haired leader gave a second thrust, ending a wretched life. He lifted the weapon again, eyes never once glancing in my direction, and charged at another….and another. I looked down where a deep red should have stained my simple homespun dress. Cries, both of triumph and agony, split the forest calm. I struggled to breathe, let alone sustain my concentration. The already heavy pall was rapidly growing darker. Thrust by thrust, the dark-clad soldiers rived through wave after wave of the light-haired attackers. The fair-haired leader spun, driving the hilt of his sword below another dark warrior’s rib-cage. I knew the familiar horror the instant it crushed me. A hulking figure behind him leapt. I called out, but no sound came forth. A moment later, two daggers protruded from below the leader’s breastplate. He staggered back, an expression of pure shock on his face. Mad delight filled the shadowy figure’s countenance. He stooped, and, clutching the fallen leader’s silver helm, ripped it off. Inaudible words crept over the dark form’s cracked, bleeding lips. A glint sparked in his gloved hand as the third dagger swept across the wounded warrior’s throat, leaving a crimson gash. The injured man uttered a few garbled sounds; his head jerked backward to meet the sky with a wide-eyed stare.
Heat filled my eyes, and the vision melted into golden light. I collapsed; the song and the battle cries instantly vanished. Sobs wracked my insides, and I shook my head against the blubbering sounds that spilled out. I could not – must not – weep before the elders. I pushed myself off the ground, striking away the tears. Head bowed, eyes red, cheeks flushed – I surely presented an unwelcome appearance.
I nodded, a particularly noisy hiccup escaping me. “Present.”
“The lore-song must be finished.” The serene female voice was the only other one heard except for the obnoxious sniffling sounds that wouldn’t quite leave. I clenched my eyes shut, willing the tears to stay hidden.
“Your father died valiantly. Your gift as a lore-singer will preserve and honor his memory.”
I bit my lip, pushing back a wayward strand of blonde, sunlit hair favoring the golden-haired warrior’s color in the vision. I blinked. Already the sun slanted lower in the west than I remembered. How long did singing only that part of the memory take? My heart plummeted. I looked back at the slender figure seated in the stone chair upon an ancient dais. Other similar berths hosted their respective owners beside her. Crystal blue eyes highlighted her pale complexion, drawn with weariness and outlined by dark, unadorned hair. Lady Elain met my troubled gaze with a stolid one of her own. I breathed in the cool evening air.
“I do honor him – but to bring forth the story of his death? What about his life? Cannot the song be enough for his fall rather than reliving the tale? Why must I be the one to relive…..” I stopped before my voice completely gave way.
Her eyes bored into me. “You have been granted a gift.”
“Cannot it be used some other way?” I wrung my hands.
“The One gave it for this purpose. To retell your memory into song, even the tiniest details of that memory – that is a rare gift indeed. You must use it to preserve those records of things which have come before so that we may anticipate the prophecies which have yet to be fulfilled. You were the only mortal witness to the death of Antioch of Pelerian. As his daughter and a skilled lore-singer, you must sing of these memories you beheld before the elders so that his valour may be written in the Tales of Old, woven into the thread of our people’s cherished heritage, not only in written tales as most of our memories are, but in our lore-scrolls. He died fighting for The Truth, and The Truth must be told.”
She motioned to the fresh roll of parchment that lay unraveled on her lap. Though short lengthwise, as far as scrolls went, a painting of a battle in a forest and a blonde-haired leader charging against his dark-clad opponent branded it, shimmering – this picture, then, was the memory I had but just sung. Near the end of the parchment, the vivid colors lessened and bled into into the scroll’s pallid brown background.
“It is yet an unfinished memory,” she stated, following my stare.
“To do otherwise than leave a true and finished record of his death would be a dishonor to his memory,” Enos spoke. Long since the eldest of the council and a respected head of the people, his age of over fourscore and ten years, though taking its toll on his aching frame, had not dampened the wisdom bestowed upon him in the slightest. A simple coronal encircled a hoary, bushy brow above kind brown eyes, and the corners of his mouth turned upward a little. “Worse would be to mar it, for no marred memory will survive in the records of the ages. Your father gave much for the people and The King he loved, Ara. Honor his service and sacrifice in at least this small way.”
I inhaled another shaky breath, listening for a moment to the birds, which were resuming their cheerful chirping. How joyful their song was in comparison to the one I must sing. A gentle breeze brushed my cheek, dancing on to twirl with my hair, then whisking around the courtyard. I straightened my shoulders and began again.
For solemn tune around the fire,
a heathen king upon his pyre;
yet let the notes dance strong and clear
amidst the woods of Arathlir.
The trees were scorched now, blackened by the torches of the dark army. The shadow host pervaded the forest, leaping over the dais, hewing brush in their midst, lighting the bodies of many of their fallen foes in utter disregard. There were too many of them now. Far too many. I sang of the growing storm as I stepped over charred grass, blades bent by the tempest, for the breeze now howled with fury.
The arrows fall, and blade is keen
and hews the brush and great boughs green.
The mounds are dug and warriors laid
in tombs bereft of colonnade.
The shadow host melted into the forest, beyond my sight, for the next scenes blurred by quickly. Men bearing an emblem of a white horse on their armor trudged across the rubble. The golden-haired leader – my father – lifted with care by two men. The battle-song descended into a slower dirge. A mound of dirt dug beneath one tree that was less blackened than the others about the clearing. They laid him down, gently, each soldier silently grieving in his own way. A sword cut into my mind’s eye, and I sang of it also – the sword his hand would never again grip laid on his chest. They crossed his arms over the weapon in the fashion of a warrior who had fallen in battle. Then the dirt was piled atop the fissure in the earth. They had given him what they could – a warrior’s burial in the midst of the woods, though he could never be buried at Sea, where great warriors were laid in vessels which carried them afar beyond the eyes of men. The same numbness I had once felt before gripped me as my lore-song faded away, melting into the same peaceful glen in the midst of the forest of Arathlir, once war-torn, now with a scar.
The eyes of the elders held pity, and a glimmering light shown in the dimming ones of Myrsa, Enos’s sage-wife. A gentle smile spread over her weathered features. Leaning from her seat, she took the parchment from Lady Elain and slowly began to roll it shut. The shimmering painting wavered, and my heart raced. A thin, hardly visible thread of brown appeared through the last scene, slashing across the image of a mound of earth beneath a broad tree. Then the scene vanished, and her soft, wrinkled hands bound up the last of the scroll and clasped it shut. She laid it down and grasped my hand, covering it with both of her own.
“Child, thy work here in this memory be finished. Go home in peace.”
I swallowed hard and stared at her. The memory may have faded from view of other mortal eyes present, but it still seared mine. And it was unfinished.
“I have no home.”