This Week’s Prompt:26. Dream of ancient castle stairs—sleeping guards—narrow window—battle on plain between men of England and men of yellow tabards with red dragons. Leader of English challenges leader of foe to single combat. They fight. Foe unhelmeted, but there is no head revealed. Whole army of foe fades into mist, and watcher finds himself to be the English knight on the plain, mounted. Looks at castle, and sees a peculiar concentration of fantastic clouds over the highest battlements.
The Research: The Storm Comes. The Dragon Roars.
Slowly I ascend the stairs of the old stone tower. Timalt was built in the old days, before the Normans came, before the Saxons came, before the Romans came, when all was still British in the North and South of the Isle. It’s stones were strong blocks from Faerie times, and its foundations the bones of the earth. I drifted up past sleeping guards, long enchanted by aged magics, to the roof of the tower. For outside there was the sound of clashing steel and the roar of the war horn.
I sat atop the towers roof, and saw the forces arrayed on the field. On the West end of the field, there was a host of Englishmen. Bright red were their shields, with the great wyvern of Wessex on their flags. Shining swords and spears of steel marked them, and they were the ones bellowing such dreadful horns. At their head stood a man with a great helm and sword, taller by a foot then his fellows, atop a mighty steed and dressed in chain.
Arrayed on the East side, with the setting sun, were men foreign and familiar to my eyes. Men in yellow shirts and tabards, come from forgotten hills and mountains. They bore no marks on their shields or banners, just a bright yellow plain. A host of great serpents, with red scales and eyes of fire walked and flew above them. They had teeth like swords and claws like spears, and from their mouth issued fire, that destroyer of cities.
At their head walked a man tall and mighty, like a giant born again. His blade was notched along it’s edges, and not of steel but some strange darker metal. He rode atop the greatest of the wyrms, a beast with five heads and belching thunder as well as flame. And he too was foreign and familiar. For the English had a name for his kind, that they oft forgot. These were the men beneath the hills and dales, whom the Faeries drove out when they fled. They were the sons of Death and Time, great terrors of the world. The clergy would say that they were the parody of man, made by the enemy. The wise speculate the opposite. That such beasts seem to have culture older than our own inclines unfortunate conclusions. They are the Igvs, creatures that have been and will be for many years to come.
The two engaged in melee for sometime. The English let loose their bows, raining arrows down on the wooden shields and scaly hides of the enemy. The response from the enemy is the calk-clak-clak and a loud whirring sound. A number of them lift up strange weapons that resemble spears and let loose volleys of darts and arrows. A multitude of the Englishmen are sent writhing, their armor glowing like stars atop the misty ground.
The swords now meet, and here at first the English have the advantage, driving steel between tabard and skin. But the serpents now roar, and at the front runners direction, belch fire onto the men. Shields are feeble tools against a dragons flame. The tall Englishman, their champion and leader, strides forward despite the fire and shouts in a strange tongue to his opposite. I understood it’s meaning, if not it’s words.
“This land is under my protection still, vile creature of the Gurganthor! By my blade you will be undone as before, and sent scurrying back below!”
I find it strange that he speaks not in English, doubly that he seems to know this dark king of the Igvs who swarm up with him. The King of the Igvs draws his marked blade in reply.
“The time has come, the sun is fading, the light below is growing great. Come forth, you fool of Avalon and lost kin, and meet your fate. My blade is sure, my body still, my blood will not be split.”
And with that the Englishman, or at least the body of one, charged forward. Some bravery infected his horse, stirring against it’s natural enemy. The Dragon roared, and the flame spilled forth, but by some trick the horse was unscathed. The clang of steel rang out as the king of Igvs and the English Lord dueled. There was an unusual grace to the King of Igvs, each blow slowly flowing into another. It was as if the sea rose and fell, wave after wave assaulting the coastline.
Perhaps, against the stony style of another English lord, or Saxon brute, or Norman conqueror, it would have overcome. The weapons of time are gradual and grinding, like wheels and sands. The steel makes roots that crack the armor, the shimmer bypasses it as the wind of ages does. But all these powers found a strange foe in the Englishman.
For he did not, as I expected and have observed elsewhere, hold a rigorous guard. His blade was swift, his arm a flickering flame. His shield relented and shifted, his body liquid and sinuous. As the King of Igvs grew in size, his arms swelling like trees, so did the Englishmen seem all the smaller and more nimble. His sword a stinger, his form a scorpion or a bees. One moment he was beneath the tremendous blow of the King of Igvs, the next he slipped away. Never has a mortal man been so artful.
At last, the fateful blow came. The Englishman’s sword felled the great tree of Igv’s head, freeing the great metal mask that lay on that knotted trunk. But then I was astonished. Beneath the helmet of the king, there was no head at all.
And then I was no longer on the oldest tower, atop the bones of the world. I had a body again, of tired flesh and sinew, of worn muscles and rapidly pulsing heart. I was atop a horse, who shook violently. I blinked rapidly, looking about, sword still in hand. I saw the old tower, the wretched tower, built round an old tree according to the men of God.
And atop it a strange storm flickered and flashed. My mind slowly receded from my memories in that tower, but I could not recall what had happened when I was here. I knew not why I was on the field, nor why I led so few against so many. Before me fled into the hills the Igvs, leaving clattering armor behind. And my memory with them threatened to recede, with nothing but the silver and crimson lighting left.
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