adventures in dysthymia

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Moon, an Excerpt from Coast of Spears

 Just for the halibut, I am posting a short excerpt from somewhere around the middle of my new novel, COAST OF SPEARS. So here is Chapter 38, The Moon

 * * *

There was a moon. For that I must be thankful.

But, at the time, I resented it for it made sleep difficult. I awoke after no more than a couple hours and could not return to my slumber with the lunar light shining through my window. Perhaps I should get up, as the High King had suggested, rejoin those who sat conversing or listening to songs in the cool of the night.

A noise — someone attempting stealth was at the threshold of my chamber, the faintest of shadows among shadows. Had one of Maitoa’s wives returned?

No, the shape was that of a man. As the facets of a jewel, something gleamed in the the figure’s hand, reflecting the pale cool moonlight. Then he lunged forward; had I not been awake, a sharp stone knife might have found my heart.

I lunged myself, taking his legs from under him. The weapon flew from his hand to clatter on the floor. The assailant drew himself up and flew, as well, out the window and into the night.

Maybe it was his yelp of surprise when I knocked him down, or maybe it was just the noise of our brief struggle that brought a pair of burly warriors to the doorway. “Someone tried to knife me,” I told them, as calmly as I could make myself. One immediately hurried away.

“Are you harmed, Taona?” asked the other.

“No,” I replied, “and I fear my attacker escaped unharmed as well.” Other than a few bruises, perhaps.

The High King himself, disturbed by this affront to his hospitality, headed the group that returned with the guard. An oil lamp was held high, allowing discovery of the dropped weapon. It was a knife of rose quartz, a ceremonial weapon, apparently.

“A priest’s blade,” said one.

“He intended it to be a sacrifice,” whispered another.

“Did you see his face, Mika?” asked the King.

“It was too dark, sir. He was no more than a shadow.” I reflected on all I could remember of the assailant. “Not a very large shadow, though.”

“And not any sort of a warrior or he would not have fled so quickly,” mused the monarch. “Let me see that knife.” It was handed to him.

Maitoa held the weapon and pondered it, as if it might give up its secrets to him. Then he raised his head, ordered, “Have the High Priest attend me,” and left the room.

I knew little enough of the Mora gods and goddesses, other than the fact that there were such. Quite a few, in fact, and many very minor. “Which god does this High Priest serve?” I asked of Pua, when I saw her among those who had gathered.

“All of them,” she told me. “He is the High King’s representative before the Spirit World.” Lady Pua gave a low laugh, and added, “Though the High Priest would rather think of himself as the Spirit World’s emissary to the King.”

“Ah.” I thought I understood. “Then there is, shall we say, a certain competition for power between them?”

“Exactly, Taona. You have seen things as they are.”

Understand that I had and have nothing against religion. I knew from history that the power of religion had often been the strongest force opposing government tyranny. I knew also that the greatest tyranny could come as a result of their collusion.

So I was, at least in theory, in favor of an independent High Priest. But not if he was involved in trying to assassinate me.

That individual was soon standing before Maitoa, and not alone for he motioned a pair of attendants forward. Between them they dragged a terrified young man. I could spot a gash on one arm, perhaps the result of leaping through the window.

“A fanatic, my Lord Maitoa,” spoke the High Priest, gesturing toward the captive. “We found him cowering at the shrine, too frightened to either fight or run.” His face, his tone, made the priest’s distaste obvious. “I assure you that the priesthood was not involved in this affront.”

Pua whispered to me. “He probably took my brother’s favor toward you as a sign. Most of the priests are waiting until they learn more of you and your friends.”

“What do they expect of us?” I whispered back.

“Many think the hero from the sea comes to bring back the old ways. The High King has some uneasiness about this.”

I nodded. Maitoa’s words earlier had suggested as much.

The High Priest was still speaking, his monologue having turned into a mild harangue against all things modern. His position, I suppose, let him get away with it as long as he did not go too far.

I wondered how many others than I were noting that his peaked feather crown – not so high as that of the king, but still impressive – was rather askew. He ceased his speech at last.

“Taona Mika!” called the High King. “Come to me.

“Look upon your would-be assassin,” he said, when I came to stand beside him. “The crime this priest has committed carries the punishment of being buried alive. The crime against my house and hospitality, that is. The attempt to murder you would normally call for bludgeoning.

“Which shall it be?” he put to me.

The High King studied me carefully as I thought on it. “I would not have any man suffer,” I finally replied. “I choose the quicker death by the club.”

“Clubbing can be prolonged, if the executioner so desires,” answered Maitoa, “but, yes, I think it preferable too. We can bury him alive after he is dead,” he decided, and chuckled at his little joke.

He motioned to a giant of a Mora, bearing a great knobbed club. Two warriors grasped the condemned man by his arms, forcing him to his knees with his head thrust forward. One swing was all it took.

Above us, the moon still shone in the heavens, promising that I would sleep no more tonight.

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