Copyright© 2010 by Celtic Bard
So She was gone. I sighed, hefted my pack, and began walking south towards the river and one of the isolated trees growing along its banks. I still wanted that bath my Lady interrupted. As I walked through the waist high grass, reveling in the sun and the steady breeze and the solitude of this land, I pondered the two deities I had now met. How different they were! The Flame Lord was as mighty and awe-inspiring and terrible as I always dreamt He would be were I to have the supreme honor of meeting Him. He was everything the Lord of the Universe could and should be for a Human. We needed something which drives our oftimes irrational natures towards goodness and purity. Given Humanity's fate, perhaps an even more terrible presence in our lives would have helped to keep us in line. Then again, perhaps not. We were a contrary People, given to obstinacy and corruption even while being capable of astounding acts of beauty and courage and charity. Perhaps if I were a God and I was the one responsible for the creation of such a creature as Man, I, too, would be loathe to see all Men doomed. Even as I despaired of the actions of my fellow Men in my youth, I still loved and cherished my kin and clansmen. Not an orphan went hungry, not a widow went cold, not a maimed warrior was cast out of the clan if it were at all possible to feed, clothe, and shelter them. Hard times showed the true character of a clan and mine was something which sustained me in my orphanage and encouraged me in my avocation. We were devout people who paid proper homage to the Flame Lord and all his works, and even the lord of my clan was proud to have been able to provide me to the priesthood. I was greatly saddened when I heard my clan had lost its final war, being wiped out by a neighboring clan on the rise.
Apocrita, however, seemed what She was: a younger Goddess. She laughed and smiled and loved her People as if they were her children. Given what I assumed went on after She kissed me the first time, perhaps they were her children. There was a presence to Her, certainly, but there was not a sense that this was a being that demanded my awe (aside from her astounding beauty) or fear. She was a Goddess to encourage worship through her kind and protective nature. Perhaps her bug people were more naturally obedient than the Flame Lord's People. One of His teachings was to emphasize free will and free choice and that can sometimes get us into trouble. He seemed to have left out something that would have helped us govern ourselves a little better within his Strictures. Humans would probably have killed themselves off even quicker where She our Creator. Hopefully, for the world's sake and her People's sake, Apocrita instilled something else within her People that will keep them more cohesive and less fractious. And while I did not understand all She said when She was speaking of them, She seemed to think they were missing something which they needed in order to thrive as sentient beings. Something Nature and I could give them. If only I could remember what She and I did after she kissed me!
The sky overhead was impossibly blue as I reached the tree rooted on the north bank of the river. The sun was nearing its zenith and it was getting very warm. I walked over to the edge of the river bank to see what I was working with and found a wide, deep, lazy river meandering eastward from the mountains smudging the horizon to the west. Sighing and hoping it was not as deep as it seemed, I stripped off my robe and sandals and looked around for a piece of wood to test the current. The dead limb slowly moved off eastward when I flung it into the water close to shore. Hoping for the best, I slid down the sandy bank and jumped into the river, landing in chest high water freezing cold in the warmth of the noon sun. The current was slow but strong, forcing me to brace myself as I held my breath and began scrubbing handfuls of silt from the river bottom on my skin. After completely washing my body, I scrubbed my head and ran fingers through the white of my beard. Having left civilization behind, I was in need of a razor if I was going to remain clean shaven. My head had been bald since my clan lord sent me to the priests when I was eight. I felt the stubble beginning to grow back and it felt very strange. Part of my daily bathing routine at the monastery was shaving my head and combing my beard, since it started to grow in at age fourteen.
I was standing in the river, allowing the feel of the water flowing around my body to soothe me when I felt the first bump. I was trying to figure out what it was when I felt two more. Realizing I knew nothing about the wildlife hereabouts, I swam towards the bank and pulled myself out just as something nipped my foot. Jerking out of the water, I spun about and saw a large fish descending into the depths of the water. Blood was slowly seeping out of a bite on the top of my foot when I looked to see what the damage was. Thinking I needed to eat, I rose and dressed before going to my pack and getting the roll of fishing line I always carried when traveling. Fashioning a crude fly with a hook, some bits of frayed white thread from my robe, a couple of tufts of grass and a feather found laying by the tree, I was ready to get some food. Tying a piece of wood onto the line, I cast into the river and anchored the line to a stake I pounded into the ground before scrounging for wood for a fire. Whilst doing this I found a sapling that had recently been uprooted by something large. I brought that back to the fire and fashioned it into a fishing pole before going to check my line. Pulling it in, I wound the line around the pole, removed the float, and went back to the river bank to begin casting.
I was reminded of all the times my grandfather and uncles took me fishing when I was a boy, before the rigor of study and meditation and physical labor that was my life in the monastery. There was a river back in the mountains of my homeland very unlike this one. It was much shallower, rocky, and riddled with rapids. Useless for trade traffic, it was the spawning ground for four different types of fish that the village used to trade for grains and fruits from the plains. While most of the trade fish were gotten with fishing weirs, they were useless for getting wyvern salmon, which were larger, stronger, and had a tendency to either break through weirs or use their fins to climb over them. Luckily they only spawned for a short period every autumn, by which time the runs of the other fish were usually almost done. No, to get the wyvern salmon and the valuable meat and bones they provided, the men in the village would have to use strong line and the gut left over from cleaning the other fish for bait to angle the wyverns. You could angle other fish like the hook pikes and the viper trout and even young wall-eyed salmon with simple flies, but wyverns were too big and too hungry for the other fish to be tricked into biting at a fly. I was hoping that this deeper river had something that I could sucker into biting onto the fly I made.
I sat on the bank, flicking the line in and out of the water, hoping for something. After about an hour of nothing, I saw an eddy in the water by a clump of reeds further down the bank and sent the line into the water close by it. Jigging the line, I slowly hauled it in, making sure the current carried the hook by the reeds. I was just about to bring the line in for a recast when I felt a tug. A couple of more nibbles followed before the line almost yanked the pole out of my hand. I hauled back on the line to set the hook before sinking the pole into the ground, grabbing the line, and reeling in lunch. When I finally saw what it was I caught I was shocked and surprised the line held. It wasn't quite as big as the fish that bit me and nowhere near as big as a wyvern salmon, but it would keep me fed for several days. It was still fighting me, but not nearly as much as I was used to from fish that big. As it got closer to the bank, I slid down to the river's edge and hauled it out of the water. It must have been almost three feet long and a fat thirty-five pounds or so. I did not recognize the type, but looked like it could be related to the type that bit me. It had a row of fairly sharp teeth and I was kind of surprised that the line held up to not only the weight but the teeth. I would have to find some way to make a wyvern line if I planned to do any more fishing in this part of the river.
Dinner that night was as satisfying a meal as I could ever remember having. It had been at least a week, possibly more since my last rushed meal caught on my way to meet my doom at the God's hands. The flesh of the fish was dense and velvety with an aftertaste that made me savor every bite. When I had eaten all I could, I wrapped the rest of the meat in a mat woven of the long grasses and soaked in river water before I placed it in the banked fire with still-glowing coals over it. I then used several more mats I wove together to focus the smoke on the meat and sought my bedroll for the night. By morning, barring any nighttime visits by animals, the meat should be well smoked and good for at least a few days.
That night, I slept. Not very profound, I know, but it was the first sleep I had gotten since my Humanity died and I was reborn in wind and magic. Whether it was the previous lack of sleep or just that the sleep of the immortal is just so much better, I don't know, but I woke in the morning feeling better than I could ever remember feeling outside of the embrace of Apocrita. I moved around the camp getting ready to leave hoping that this was simply how immortals felt when they rose for the day. The fish was perfectly smoked and still warm so I broke my fast on some more of it before wrapping the rest and rolling up my bedroll. Looking around the waking plain, I contemplated my heading for the day. Apocrita told me that the new people of this land lived to the south and west in the mountains and forests found in that direction. I was still not feeling up to having company but I also wanted to be on the other side of the river should I change my mind. As deep and populated by large creatures as it was, there was no way I was going to attempt to swim the river to get to the other side. Sighing, I turned my face into the wind and headed west, towards the mountains. That had to be the source of the river and thusly the direction shallower water lay. Hopefully a ford lay close by so I would not have to walk all the way to the mountains. I still needed to do some meditating on what my life as an immortal would be.
Seeing the mountains for the first time on the plain when Apocrita whisked me here from her People's homeland, I had thought they were fairly close. As I walked that first day, however, they did not appear any closer. I bedded down some distance from the river to avoid the swarms of bugs inhabiting the reeds edging the bank. There was no convenient tree from which I could gather fire wood, so I ate a bit of cold fish from the night before and settled down to meditate before going to sleep. I let my mind drift over the God's words and the faces of my fellow Humans as we were told of our doom. I was amazed at how many I had recalled, even those who were further back in the crowd of faces looking to me for answers when the Fire Lord left us.
As I sat there contemplating their stunned and sorrowful visages, two thoughts emerged very strongly from within my core. First and happiest was that my memory, always good for recalling texts and hymns and prophesy, used to be horrible at recalling faces and the names that went with them. Whatever the God did to us seems to have fixed that problem, for me at least. The second thought was less pleasant: Apocrita was right; I left my fellow penitents hanging in the wind with no guidance or advice other than to wander, hoping they find the answers to their questions. Yes, the Fire Lord did compel us to scatter, hoping to keep our base Human natures from causing Him to do away with his sorry remnant of the People He chose to create, only to be forced to watch them destroy themselves. However, they asked for guidance and all I did was throw the God's proscription back at them slathered with my indifference. The God had awaited me before appearing, thus giving the impression that I was graced with more importance than they. It was only natural for them to look to the one their Lord named his son for answers and I left them with nothing but the compulsion to leave and wander. Shame bubbled up, making me wish to be able to seek them out and redeem such callousness. Somehow, however, I knew I would not see any of them until the first of us died. By our own hand or another's. Such was the doom laid upon us by the Flame Lord.
I was ten days walking towards the mountains when the plain finally began being interrupted by foothills. Wishing to remain as Human as the God allowed us, I had stopped to fish again on the third day and on the seventh I accidentally killed a wild boar with magic I did not know I possessed when the creature charged me trying to protect its den. Its meat was quite succulent and kept me in rations until I began seeing stands of wood and the first of the hills leading up to the mountains. As I walked those ten days, I began realizing that this world was much bigger than the parochial view I had of it when living in the monastery. Given that I seemed to have a long time ahead of me to explore it, the idea of embracing the name my mother gave me and simply wandering this miracle that the Lord created and understanding its every facet became more and more appealing. Being a monk allowed me to be educated above and beyond most of my clan, including my lord. However, the abbot and the senior priests discouraged a lot of free thinking and intellectual exploration, I now realized. I was an expert in law and doctrine of the Faith, but knowledgeable about little else. It was a realization that came with the shocking knowledge that I was not educated so much as I was indoctrinated. My teachers taught me what they wanted me to know so I would be a good little monk. They did not teach me the knowledge and thinking skills that would allow me to come up with my own ideas and viewpoints. Such education was probably why the clan lords and priests all sanctioned each step along their path towards oblivion. It saddened me to realize that Humans had committed self-inflicted genocide; the Flame Lord merely allowed it to happen.
The sun was sinking into the mountains on that tenth day and a cool wind was coming down off the towering peaks rearing over me as I entered the foothills. I don't know when I began feeling the presence of some ... one else, someone similar to Apocrita, but when I stopped on the crest of the third line of hills I saw a figure on the crest of the next hill some distance away. He looked tall with shoulder length black hair, light brown skin, and a muscular build evident even at that distance. I began slowly walking down my hill and the figure did the same, his strides eating up the distance until we stood about ten feet apart in the valley that had separated us. He was taller than me by a hand or so and could probably have crushed me easily even if He was not a God, as I suspected he was. His jade green eyes examined me thoroughly before He smiled slightly, his wide mouth showing very white teeth. He had a long, straight nose on an oval face with strong cheeks and prominent brows covered by bushy black hair. Rather plain leather pants covered in soil and a linen shirt billowing in the wind were his clothes. Very dirty feet showed below worn cuffs.
We stood looking at each other for some time, the lighting getting dimmer and the air getting cooler with night's descent. The wind brought an earthy musk to my nose that was not altogether unpleasant and a thrill of vitality tingled over my travel weary body. Despite walking the whole day and looking forward to sleep, I was energized.
"So, Wanderer, how find you immortality?" the god inquired in a deep bass voice that shook my bones. "Find you pleasure in such vitality and strength and power or have you yet felt the doom placed upon you by my Father?"
"Wh-who are you, Lord?" I bravely queried the God. His presence was a beating, surging rush that almost left me breathless. The musk of Him was unbelievably bracing, like the first warm breath of Spring bringing life back to the earth or the beating forge-like heat of high Summer ripening the grains in the fields of the plains. He was vitality incarnate, strength and life enough to bring into existence all that populated the earth. He was almost more awe-inspiring than the Flame Lord, if only because I was able to feel the power of Him without being fearful of being consumed by it.
The God laughed a hearty laugh that echoed in the distance. "I am Viniterus, Wanderer. And as my sister did come to you to fix her problem with her People, so I come to you so see if I should find a similar solution to Mine."
I gaped at him for several seconds. How is it that the Gods come to me for wisdom? I am but an acolyte! "I-I am not sure how to respond to that, Lord. I am but a simple monk, not a sage abbot or high priest. I but recently had to come to the conclusion that even the education I got was limited and specific, at best. I know little about the world or its inhabitants. Even less now that my own people are no more."
Viniterus, the God of Vine and Beasts, laughed. Now that I saw him, I recalled my lessons in the monastery and the rites given unto Viniterus in the Spring and in the Fall for bountiful harvests and fertile herds. Thus do the simple, dirt-stained clothes covering his powerful body make sense. It is said that even as the People toil under the sun in the fields and pastures, so does Viniterus. And that should He cease doing so, the world would go barren and infertile. Why Humans knew of Viniterus and not Apocrita, I know not. Perhaps She was already trying to create her own People and was too busy to be among us.