The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 3 continues:
After a few moments’ rest, Fyryx cleared his throat and found his own voice once more. “It’s a wonder, old boy — of the seven who lived that day to join the Treasured as the last of the first, one lives still. We know her now as elderwoman Pum. Even at her olderly age, one of the only to stand for our homeland today. Yes, the Semperor chose well in choosing her… to endure the tests of time, to best the most treacherous, to survive the Wilderness so long…” He reached out to stroke the tip of Arrowborne’s sweetly tapered nose with the back of his hand. “Just as you will survive this…”
It burned his skin with the heat of an evil inferno, dark and unseen. “Snake spine and rose blood! What devil’s kiss was that?!”
Fyryx spat on his reddened flesh then rubbed in the thick, white foam to soothe it. He grimaced from the sting but recovered quickly, as if daring not to let the silence linger.
“Now look how you’ve made me lose my grip on this tale. Always the trickster you were. Like the way you made us lose count of all the elders on that Crossing Day a score and ten years ago. Braying out numbers, mocking our voices. You got Ayrie angry but I just laughed. I hadn’t learned to figure past my fingers anyway.
“On the other hand, the elders made themselves hard to miss in the pageant of our people. As was their custom from the many trails of tears gone by, they rode afront, just behind the vanguard, leaving the folk to follow as an afterthought and walk in their dusty wake. We traveled amidst them all, between those favored and the foot-borne, with a clear eye of everything. The elders spread out far before us in a carnival of colors, a field of flags abreast by three and long about a hundred strong. Family flags they flew, hoisted high and unfurled with pride to flap a tail or two in the warm wind.
“Flying foremost among them in a silken sheen of lavender and gold, which we could still see despite the distance, waved a banner bearing the fabled bloodname of Pum. The letter runes lilted by graceful design, each embroidered in the finest thread of angel hare with the chilling skill of the netherworld’s needles in a heavenly hand. Above was depicted a scene of supreme glory — of a young Poxanna the Picked, courtess of Pum, adorned in sacred white robes and anointed by the Semperor himself with a glowing touch upon her forehead. So holy the image… though, between you and me, the artist may have taken some liberties. Especially in the fresh-faced maiden portrayed, a breathtaking beauty of pure and perfect female form with flowing flaxen hair, soft full lips, and the pyre-hot peace — the knowing innocence — of one who’s caught glimpse of a godsign. That figure bore little likeness to the tall, almost manly woman of late middle age who rode under it. She who sat stiff and high above all in a grand sedan chair that had been mounted on a heavy chevox and decked in regal fabrics and frills…
“No, this woman who headed the body of elders could not be called comely by any stretch. It was more a skin of shields she wore, battle-pocked and built-up thick, formed at the peak of her powers — a face for fearing, not endearing to young ones like us. We had always avoided her ironwood eyes, too stern their stare, for surely they’d turn us to stone. So we had to be sly, even to spy her.
“‘She must not catch our count,’ cautioned Ayrie, as he figured the flags in his head.
“At last he had it. ‘Fourteen score, plus fifteen more, then add one Pum… We’re short by four!’
“I fumbled with my fingers like I followed, but must have looked lost.
“‘Oh, little brother,’ he said, shoving back the long licks of red hair that hid his brow and encroached upon his cheeks, ‘You can work this out, I know you can. Use the magic take-away trick I showed you, the one from Prince Poxum’s Secret Scrollbook.’
“It took me a minute. ‘Two-ninety-six?’
“‘Treasure!’ He smiled and punched me on the arm.
“‘Ayrie…’ I asked, ‘do you think it matters? The elder count, I mean.’
“Ayrie pondered a bit and shrugged his shoulders. ‘Father has always told us so, at least by his bedtime tales. But I guess he could have made those up.’
“A silence fell between us as we wondered into our own thoughts and gazed away at the parade of pretty pennants…
More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.
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