The Land Remembers
Prelude to a Journey
Location: Plains of D'hassa, D'hassa March, Cymeria
Timeline: August 3550
There comes a time in the long journey of any nation when one single event changes the path of history for them, when one day decides that centuries that are to follow and one single moment reshapes the very understanding a nation has of itself.
The wise scholar understands that it is not the moment that causes the change, but the myriads of paths that led to it and by intersecting there made the moment what it was for the course of history. ~ Excerpt from: The History of the Lost, Book IV
The wind soughed down from the peaks of the great Cambrians. It rustled the grass of the plain, startling one of the giant birds that occasionally sought prey in this haunted place. The Kelenken, also known as Kels and even more aptly called Terror Birds, shuddered, ruffled its feathers and decided to return to the safety of the forest in the nearby foothills. The wind did not bother harrying the nine-foot flightless creature. It had other things to do this night.
Though the wind tries to comfort it, the land never forgets. Neatly cropped grass on a vast hill responds to the wind, but the land cannot forget. The hill covers an untold number of dead. Oh, the ones that lived tried to count, tried to find names, to sort out the fallen, but it was too monumental a task. In the end, the great grave was dug, the fallen grouped with their comrades as best as possible and the mound of earth built over them, to enfold them, to hold them, to soothe them.
In time, the spirits that remained were consoled by the wind, saw they would not be forgotten by men nor by the land and moved on. It took longer for others, but in time, they too moved on, leaving the land alone with its memories.
The wind circled the giant hill that covered the remains of the fallen and paused at the great monument that had been erected at the center of the mound. A great granite obelisk rose from the center, dark and shining in the moonlight. Flanking it, forever locked in combat, were two soldiers of bronze, but so lifelike that passersby vowed they could hear the clash of their swords. Carved into the obelisk, between the eternally battling soldiers, were the words Remember the Cost. Below that, inset in the pedestal of the great obelisk was a small eternal flame.
Everyday, soldiers from the nearby town rode out to tend the monument. They made sure it was clean and that the flame was lit. If the weather was inclement, there was a clear dome that could be placed over the small flame. A farmer was paid to graze his sheep on the mound to keep the grass short and neat. The soldiers dutifully cleaned up after the sheep, never complaining.
Farmers would not remain near the mound overnight and soldiers preferred not to camp in its presence alone. Yet the yearly gathering for the Ceremony of Oaths seemed undisturbed by the haunted site. Perhaps it was because they came to pay their respects, to remember, and to soothe the spirits of the many that died. Others visited the site, awed by the monument and by the seeming hallowed surroundings.
The rider nudged his huge black stallion to stop its heavy steps on the saddle of the pass road, the horse obeyed the slight touch coming to stand like a statue, the long black mane and tail fluttering in the soft breeze of the autumn evening. Gero did not dismount, his eyes taking in the site, the memorial, in the gentle shadows of the evening it was hard to imagine the very same vale had been the site of fierce battle. Still, his keen eyes could easily pick out the signs still present, the land never forgot, not easily at least. There were irregular shapes in the ground, overgrown by grass now, remains of earthen walls, there was the steep hillside sloping strangely, it had been broken and smashed by the charging cavalry, and the brook... it never would have quite the same shape again, the place where the seventh legion of Aquilone had made their stand had been a trampled cauldron of blood and murk that day, and the widening of the brook's bed would be there long after the other traces of the battle were gone.
Gero did not delude himself, nature was an even-handed judge, not caring for friend or foe, destroyer or protector dying in her arms, no amount of pain would make a tree weep or the grass whisper. Still... whenever he came here, he thought he could hear a mournful whistle in the wind, a whisper like a dirge, singing for the Lord of Storms who had died here. And maybe it was true - Kimber had passed into a place that Gero could neither comprehend nor truly understand. The White Road was a choice only the Cymry could fully understand or embrace. To the Wyr it remained a riddle, an impossible choice. Gero had tried to comprehend Kimber's path - the path Mathias had taken before him - trying to understand the choice his friend would one day make, and he had utterly failed at it. To the Wyr, Death was the last Enemy to be fought, the Hunter Eternal that never failed and would come for each one of them one day, and when the time came they'd fight, spitting their last breath at the Dark Hunter when he claimed their lives. The differences in understanding death had always puzzled Gero, he had known death long before coming here, but only Kimber had ever made him wonder if there was another way than the final battle with the Hunter.
Dismounting Gero clapped Nightsong's flank. "Stay here," he told the stallion in a whisper, knowing the horse might not know the words but would pick up his meaning. Standing beside the horse on the hill, Gero still hesitated to approach the memorial. He was only here to see if all was ready, but still... he found it hard to approach the stone memorial. It always brought the memories back - of the battle, of Kimber falling... he tried to not let them spring up inside him, focusing on their goodbye instead. It was not an easier memory to bear - a great part of him had been ready to follow Kimber that day, to follow him into that world beyond and to fight for him there, if not for Kimber's last order...
Shaking off the memory, Gero reminded himself that this was not the time for daydreaming. He was here on duty, not only to check if things were ready, but also to sniff around, to get a sense of the area - if anyone, Aquilone in particular, planned anything strange, the ceremonies would be a perfect place to strike. And if they planned something, they'd have to scout the place too. Focusing on the surroundings Gero approached the memorial. The meadows were clean, the traces of the sheep and the soldiers were clearly visible, but even after a thorough scouting he could not see anything that hinted at strangers having been here recently. It did not mean much. There had been whispers his spies had brought back - whispers involving Aquilone, and even worse: Aquitaine. They were said to have taken an interest in the time of the proceedings, which could mean nine kinds of trouble. Though there was nothing that supported any of the whispers here - yet.
Turning to the memorial Gero wondered if he'd ever come back here and truly like it. He understood why Mikhael had chosen it that way - it honored the dead and the Cymry traditions, and Gero would never let him see that he disliked that place. Maybe he could have loved the memorial if the grass had not been kept short, if the pillar of stone had been left to the elements, surrounded by high grass in summer and smells of the heather in autumn, like the warriors resting in this earth, it should somehow feel the Mother's last embrace, that welcomed all her sons and daughters home. The wilds brought peace even to those never buried...
The tall man shook his head, this was the Wyr in him speaking, the woodlands creature, the man who loved the wild things a bit too much. The Cymry expressed their great reverence for the dead in their meticulous care for the memorial, in their creating this place in the first place, in the words on the cold stone and in the eternal flame burning against the darkness of the evening.
We all are but candles against the night, it does not matter how long we burn if only the light we cast was bright. The words were another memory, one of long ago and it brought back a young, bright Cymry with pale hair... Gero bowed his head, Wyr tradition demanded to speak of the dead, to tell what they had been to you and how their path had changed your own. In the ten years since the battle, Gero had been searching for the words to express what Kimber had been to him. Maybe during the ceremonies he would find them. Until then it was his task to make sure that no harm came to Mikhael and his people.
As if an old friend trying to console him, the wind gently graced the lone rider's face with a gentle caress. Or, perhaps it was that old friend, as the wind carried the loving murmur of a gentle voice with it. As the man moved on to tend to his tasks, the wind returned to nestle against the great hill, ruffle its grasses and listen as the land remembered.
Originally Published: Oct 2nd, 2013