Weeklies

Folis and Ailura

This was rewritten (extensively) from an isolated scene found in my old paper notes (wow, so old).

 

 
All the serving men and women of the castle Daehrok had fled when they knew of the coming band: the fame of Ailura and his men was as potent as the fear of death itself.

Folis had closed himself and his followers in the great hall of the castle. It had nine pillars between the furnace at one end and the door at the other, and five between the two walls, and between each pillar was a space of ten paces. The great door at the far end was made of wood nearly a span thick, with heavy hinges and bands of iron. The furnace at this end was a cavern of stone whose chimney seemed a well open on the darkness of the sky. In this furnace the followers of Folis made a fire the like of which was never seen in that castle before. They worked as if any lull in the flame was an advance of the enemy. They gathered all the richly carved furniture of the hall, broke it up, and hurled it into the flames.
 
Folis did not help with them, but stood gazing into the fire, contemplating it, not as a general surveys a field, but as he inspects the nursing of a beast he means to make use of. A billow of flame flew up like startled a flock of birds; Folis’s eyes flashed. Several swords sounded on the door like a roll of thunder, and at that first blow the sword-points showed through all the thickness of the wood, and were immediately withdrawn. Folis did not turn. While the echo of the fifth attack on the door lingered in the vast air the sixth attack cut the door apart, and the men of Ailura strode through its wreck like an avalanche shot from a bow. They were swift.
 
But Folis seemed to hold that moment of time in the palm of his hand. He turned, and lifted his pale staff like a javelin, its foot forward towards his enemies, its head of many cleft branches towards the fire. The flames left the chimney and came roaring through the mouth of the furnace, streamed along the staff, collapsing into it, filling it, peeling themselves from their ashes and leaving them cold and smokeless on the hearth. Everything near that was made of iron sounded a mournful groan as the flames moved, and even the stone had a low answer that unsteadied the feet of the servants. The raging light grew greater, darker, and angrier, furled itself around the staff and vanished into it, drank into the far places of that narrow rod. It stretched itself forward, and a point appeared at the foot, long, and tapering to the width of a sting, then of a hair, then of invisibility. The shaft was no longer bone pale, but flashing, glistening like molten copper. The branches of the head thinned and bent like a spider dragging its own soul.
 
The light had deepened and spread to every corner of the hall. The sound also was changing: as the sound of a wheel whirling on its side rises in pitch as it whirls lower, so the sound of the flying fire changed from a billowing roar to the piercing whine of soft ice pressed under a great weight, but far louder than such a sound has ever been heard. Dancing ribbands of flame yet slithered into the staff, and as Folis lifted it white, spherical flashes cracked here and there down its increasing length. It grew, and extended itself with a droning hiss like a field of raging wasps. As it grew, Folis seemed to diminish in stature beneath it, till he seemed but a withered old man, dwarfed by the ancient instrument, as he held it level with his hardened eye in one crooked hand. The mere miserly flame of the furnace, for which his servants had laboured and seared their bodies, was but a nascent spark to recall a far older and deadlier burning into that low, unworthy place.
 
The virulent cry of the Ailura was snapped like a bowstring. Instead there filled the hall the low, stinging voice of Folis, a chant that rasped on the high ceiling and on every wall, a fragment of which clung in the minds of his servants above all the rest, though they never knew its meaning:
“…Iiln ts natsh berthulst shtshal am iimnakh leghanur…”
He cast his staff as a deathly weapon. There were no shadows except behind his enemies: every part of that place glowed dully with fury against them; the spear moved through the light that it made as the sun of its own firmament, a spindle of frightful colour and form.
 
It pierced Ailura’s shield and breastplate, and it pierced his heart. He became still as stone. Sheets of fire like solar flares leapt out and through his men. As it met the flames their armor was emptied, and the metal blew like melted wax into shapes like hair, eddying like dead leaves, fine as cotton, and white as the flying cloud.
 
Ailura stood alone. The staff in its original form remained where it had pierced, as if a bone of his body had been drawn or sent out of him, fashioned in a material simile of his departing life. His armor was misshapen and receded from the shaft that had broken it, the steel charred like wood itself. But the body of the man was petrified, not burned like his men, but, as if the human was burned out of the form, he stood more solid than the disfigured armor that wrapped him, and the colour was horribly changed.
The servants of Folis now felt like small children who had gone where they should not, and had found themselves walking among the bodies strewn over a battlefield. They could see Ailura, surrounded by the light of the still white hot scatterings of armor, framed in air that still twisted and convulsed with the heat. He was not pale, nor blackened, he was coloured like dry stains left by dry, mummified flesh that had lain in its tomb long enough to become part of it. He seemed in a moment to have become an ancient thing, his mouth open forever, the blue of his eye left dry in its now coarse and pitted surface like rotted foam dried on the shore of a vanished sea. He was rough as lava stone, harder than any rock or steel, though seemingly crafted now from inseparable clots of sharp dust.
 
Folis stepped silently across the room as his men cowered together in the dark behind him. As he entered the pale, firework glow of the heated metal he seemed to grow larger in the light, and the wind of the heat wafted his hair. He took his staff, and left them.
 
Here is the original (with paragraph breaks and spelling corrections) for interest’s sake. I find it interesting, in the rewriting I seem to be influenced by G. K. Chesterton I think. My sister Juliet is reading his Father Brown short stories aloud to us.
 
Fotnis commanded that they make the fire hotter. All the serving men and women had fled when they saw the coming band of soldiers. The fame of Kain Dor-Zaitoran Zheit was as potent as the fear of death itself. Now Fotnis was trapped in a hall of the castle Daehrok. It had nine pillars between the door-wall and the furnace-wall, and five pillars between the other two walls; between each pillar and the wall, or another pillar, were ten paces. The great door at the far end was made of wood nearly a span thick, with hinges of iron. The fire at this end was a cavern of stone opening into two rooms; in this they made a fire the like of which was never seen in that castle before.
 
The two followers of Fotnis had put aside their clothes, and were working as if any lull in the flame was an advance of the enemy. One, Horm Bodnidza, worked vigorously to gather all the furniture of the hall, break it up, and hurl it into the furnace. The other, who was called the Worm – in the sense of a dragon – helped in all but gathering the fuel, but mainly worked the bellows with viciousness. Fotnis did not help with them, but kept out of their way, gazing into the fire, contemplating it, not as a general surveys field, but as he inspects the nursing of a monster that he must tame, and send against the enemy. A billow of flame flew up like a startled flock of birds; Fotnis’ eyes flashed.; several swords sounded on the door like a roll of thunder. Still Fotnis did not turn; still his eyes flashed. Horm and Worm knew that he could go among the flames as within an impregnable fortress, and leave them to be slaughtered by Dor-Zaitoran Zheit; strange devotion, that thought evil of another without love and was obedient unto death, not caring for their own lives. They did not love nor hate him, they would simply rather die by the hand of the enemy in Fotnis’ service than forsake him for no more reason than that he would forsake them.
 
The tips of the sword blades had shown through the door at the first strokes, and were wrenched immediately out again. Fotnis did not turn, his eyes flashed. When the fifth attack on the door was echoing in the hall, the whole horde ran at once upon it and it gave way. Dor-Zaitoran Zheit and his band came on roaring like an avalanche. Then came a moment that is a long one to describe.
 
Fotnis turned, and lifted his pale staff like a javelin, with its foot pointed towards the enemy, and the head, with all of its many reaching branches, pointed towards the fire. The flame left the chimney and came roaring through the mouth of the furnace, and streamed along the staff, collapsing into it, and filling it, leaving the ashes upon the hearth cold, and smokeless; it had peeled off of them, gathering its smoke about it as it came, and making the grate groan as it passed it. The fire flowed about Fotnis like a wheel. It furled around the staff and vanished into it, as if it were absorbed by it.
 
A point appeared on the staff, long and tapering to the width of a sting, then of a hair, and then to invisibility, and the branches of the head thinned and twisted together. The staff changed colour from pale like bone to a flashing, glistening, metallic colour of molten copper. The light changed; it deepened in colour and spread to every corner of the hall. The noise changed also, like a wheel whirling on the ground, as it comes nearer to the ground the whirls become faster, so the sound of the fire changed from a roar to a squeak like soft ice being pressed, and grew louder as well.
 
The staff swelled and lengthened, and hissed and whined like a wasp, angry and ready to sting. Dancing ribbands of flame slithered into it, and as Fotnis lifted it, cracks of white, spherical flares flashed here and there upon it. As the weapon grew greater, Fotnis seemed to diminish in stature beneath it, till he seemed but a withered old man, swarfed by the massive weapon. Yet he lifted up his voice like a cicada. The enemy’s bellow was snapped like a bowstring. Instead there filled the hall the voice of Fotnis, in a low, chanting voice that filled the hall and rasped on the walls and roof. He said:
“Iiln ts natsh brethultsh shtshal am imnakh leghanuer.” and hurled the spear.
There were no shadows, except behind the enemy; it moved through the light that it made as if it was the sun of its own firmament. It pierced Dor-Zaitoran Zheit’s shield and breastplate, and it pierced his heart. He became still as stone; flame in the shape of solar flares leapt out and through the band; and as the metal of their armor met the flame it was emptied, melted like wax, blown into shapes like hair, blown in eddies like dead leaves, all as white as cotton.
 
The staff, now its original form again, looking like a horrid, protruding bone with which… (note ends here)
 
sparks against a dark background
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