We stood in a round space, defined by an absence of grass, on what appeared to be some kind of sand or ground stone, covering thinly a base of rock beneath us. The space itself was not much bigger than a small cottage, and beyond it, there was the grass I remembered from Lucian’s memories, stretching out in all directions as far as the eye could see.
To the right of me and just outside the circle lay a largish pile of smouldering black; overlaid, I remembered that this is where the keeper’s home would have been, that it had been a round shaped hut made from grass and mud, decorated with earth colours and weaves carved into the surface.
As my eyes tracked on and past the keeper’s house, following a straight trail that led to an assembly of caved in and broken structures, I became aware of the outlines of a number of motionless human shapes, on the trail and halfway in the grass that was trampled flat by the side of the trail.
It was very obvious that we had come a day too late.
Lucian stood straight by my side, holding me, tracking across the land, scanning for life signs and for the enemy. I join him and we find many lives, all around us, thousands upon thousands of horses, frightened minds in hiding, and further afield, a celebration still in progress of those who had vanquished our faithful people.
Ahead, in the remnants of the village, life is stirring amongst the broken buildings and in the grasses beyond. I extend healing and comfort whilst Lucian continues to scan and track.
Movement refocuses me on the present visibilities and there are the strange horse people, coming out of hiding, their bodies mysteriously restored, coming from the village and the grass one by one and in small family groups and making their way to where we stand in the circle, their saviours and gods arrived a day too late to protect them as had been promised.
Lucian tightens his embrace on me briefly before releasing me and straightening himself.
“Not to worry,” he says quietly and under his breath, without taking his eyes off the approaching people. “There is much that can and will be done.”
I straighten out too and try to imagine what a goddess would wear in the way of expression and bearing but the thought just giggles me completely and I need Lucian to throw a wet dark blanket over me momentarily so I can stand with a straight face and back as I watch the horse people assemble to us.
They are all smaller than me, and Lucian positively dwarfs them by comparison. Their bodies are dry, sinewy and a peculiar colour of orange, their hair bound into many small sections and very long, their clothes consistent of long thin woven strands of materials attached to their shoulders or chests and waists, making it look like long hair of various grass and earthy colours. I can see the women’s breasts and the men’s genitals beneath the open strands of weave that flow with their movements just like the tall grasses amongst which they live.
There is not a single vibration of resentfulness or disappointment in us, only an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude that we are there. I find this hard to cope with and mentally lean on Lucian for composure as he doesn’t care what anyone thinks or feels and keeps clearly focussed on his own outcomes of the time.
Amongst them is an old man, the thin, shrivelled orange arms sticking out from the covering of separate strands which are paler than those of the others and interlaced with many beads and small decorations, leaning on a stick that is highly carved and boasts what appears to be the skull of a small animal on the top. He is skeletal in his thinness. I/we recognise him immediately. He is the one we have communicated with in the past and I am most relieved to see that he is still alive. Slightly behind him, to the right, walks a small boy, no more than 8 or 9, wearing a covering of similar colours. He must be the old man’s apprentice and the one we would be communicating with a few years from now. The seamless procession across death of their duties strikes me strangely.
The others halt about two men’s length from the circle and step aside respectfully to let the old man pass through, then as one go on their knees and touch their heads to the ground.
The old man also very awkwardly and painfully, with the aid of the stick in one knotted hand and the shoulder of the young boy under the other, tries to lower himself to a kneeling position. I make to stop him but Lucian who has a tight link on me freezes me and sends me a negation.
Irritated, I side step his locking but instead of stopping the painful and slow descent of the old man as I had originally intended, I reach into his dust dry joints and re-flex them, easing and repairing with a wave that ripples swiftly throughout his entire skeleton. He sinks to his knees with an expression of disbelief and the boy swiftly throws himself to the ground, forehead down and both hands over his head protectively.
The old man focuses himself and sends us a message of humble welcome and deepest gratitude.
I find that very hard to cope with, indeed. We had to go play at re-locating swords, having arguments and Lucian had to blow up the tower in a fit of childish rage when we could have been here, protecting these people who trusted us so totally and unconditionally. Lucian catches my thought and admonishes me so sharply that it physically hurts my head. I nearly strike back at him but then reconsider. What do I know about these kind of things. I shall begin arguing with him over the treatment of serfs and dependents when I have more, or any, experience in such matters.
Lucian accepts the welcome message with the curtest move of the head and demands information at a level that is pitched about ten times more powerfully than would be necessary. The old man reels under the onslaught of his mental voice and sends feeble pictures in return of another group like their own, one who does not believe in serving the ancient gods they have never seen, come to take their prize horses, prize women and kill their warriors.
I feel a deep knot in my stomach for I already know what Lucian’s answer will be, and his action. Halfway through the story, Lucian has put out a call to his blacks, generically, all of them. By the time the old man is finished, the earth is already resonating under the beat of heavy hooves and from the left, straight against the undulating sweep of the grass waves in the distance, the first group of horses appears into view.
We stand absolutely motionless whilst the blacks make towards us. The lead one has a coarse rope end around its neck, and as I count them, the last straggler comes across the hills, carrying a terrified man still clinging to his back.
The eleven horses slow on their approach and stop, flanks glistening, great nostrils flaring, four square just beyond the circle, behind us and opposite to the kneeling villagers. Without turning around, Lucian brutally takes the mind of the man who had been carried to us and forces him to dismount, walking woodenly around us and then crashing to the ground like a felled tree next to the kneeling old man who tries to control a recoil reflex.
There is nothing much in the man’s mind, a high ranked warrior amongst his people who had thought to try and ride his spoil of war, a possession worthy of more status than a dozen wives could buy.
Lucian broadcasts into his mind a terrible picture of total annihilation of his people, brands it down with a flaring agony, then bubbles the man’s skin to red all over, causing insane screaming.
I watch him do this and do not intercede nor even think to intercede.
The man is writhing on the ground. Lucian tasks the old man to tie him to one of the blacks with ropes and swiftly, the old man relays the message in a rumbling tongue. There are no men of warrior age left alive, so two old men, a boy and a couple of full grown women set to the task of heaving the mangled enemy onto the back the same black who had borne him to us. The black stands perfectly still, perfectly obedient and when Lucian instructs it to return, it spins on its powerful back legs and streaks off towards the waiting, undulating grass land.