Originality By Way Of Cliche: Kumo Kagyu’s Goblin Slayer, Vol. 1 (2016)

“Goblin Slayer was calm as he delivered this answer that was no answer. He daubed his gauntlets with blood, then pulled a liver out from one of the bodies.”

 

—Kumo Kagyu, Goblin Slayer, Vol. 1 (2016)

§.00 The first installment of the novel series Goblin Slayer, Vol.1 (2016), written by Kumo Kagyu (with illustrations by Noboru Kannatsuki), opens with a creation story; the gods of light, order and destiny are locked in a cosmic struggle with the gods of darkness, chaos and chance (how many gods attend each attribute, we are not told). In place of fighting each other directly, their contest is engaged by the rolling of die. After some time the gods tire of dice and create the world as their board and all the beings upon it as their pawns.

§.01 After the table-top inspired prologue, a knowing, introductory line, preempting the cliches to come: “You’ve heard this one before.” More likely than not, upon reading Chapter 1, a fantasy-versed reader will, indeed have heard the set-up before; a young, would-be adventurer known only as Priestess (no characters in the novel have names, only class-designations) joins a guild, receives “porcelain” rank (the lowest of the guild’s 10-teir hierarchy) and is met by three other, young, would-be porcelain adventurers—Warrior, Fighter and Wizard—who ask her to join their party on a quest to save kidnapped maidens from the clutches of a band of goblins (which are described as “-tall as a child, with strength and wits to match”). Priestess after some hesitation, accepts the offer. The party then tracks down the goblins to their lair in a gloomy cave. Venturing within the recess, the party is filled with confidence, save for Priestess, who urges caution, however, her chiding proves fruitless—shortly thereafter, a band of goblins blindside the adventurers.

§.02 In a more conventional tale, the brave wayfarers would have just barely defeated the goblins, rescued the maidens and received a bountiful reward for their pains. However, in Goblin Slayer, they all wind up dead, or as good as. Wizard is gutted with a poison blade. Warrior is slaughtered. Fighter is beaten and raped. Priestess is set upon and takes an arrow to the shoulder. Yet, just before Priestess meets the same fate as Fighter, a mysterious man appears who is “not very impressive” and donned in “dirty leather armor and a filthy steel helm.” The man, a silver ranked adventurer (the third highest rank within the guild hierarchy), decimates the goblins and introduces himself as Goblin Slayer. He then tells Priestess that Wizard is as good as dead, due to the workings of goblin poison that had lined the blade which skewered her. Wizard asks to be put out of her misery and Goblin Slayer swiftly obliges and slits her throat without compunction, much to Priestess’ dismay. Slayer then states that he is going to finish off the rest of the goblins; Priestess goes with him and together they destroy the nest and find a secret room filled with goblin children born from the wombs of human females the goblin horde had kidnapped. Priestess inquires whether or not Slayer will kill them. He says he will and she tries to stop him by asking if he would still be willing to slaughter them if they were good, to which the Slayer replies “The only good goblins are the ones that never come out of their holes,” before clubbing the baby goblins to death. After this grisly affair, the Priestess resolves (rather surprisingly) to become a proper adventurer by accompanying Goblin Slayer on his bloody, ceaseless missions.

§.03 The first thing that struck me about the novel was how original its execution, despite its abundant cliches. In GS, cliches are dutifully employed to be forthrightly subverted, but not merely for the sake of surprising the reader, as when, in a Hollywood horror film, convention dictates a cat or trusted friend be responsible for the first jump-scare so that the effect of the second may be heightened by causing the audience to question whether or not it will again be a harmless animal or friend, or some genuine threat. For example, Goblin Slayer, a skillful warrior and thoughtful tactician, would, in more conventional fantasy works, ladder his way up from the stock genre threats (such as bandits, goblins, trolls, etc) to ever greater challenges (such as dragons and necromancers) in tandem with a plot ever expanding in scope, from the local, to the demense, to the national, to the continental to, invariably, the world, and, perhaps, other worlds (spirit realms, etc). This, however, is not the case with the slayer, who adamantly refuses to engage in any activity not related to exterminating goblins. His idee fixe is so extreme that the co-inhabitants of the town near where he resides come to consider him eccentric, if not mad, and they might be right, for even when he is told that the world is imperiled by “an army of demons” he refuses to aid those who petition his assistance, saying only, “If it isn’t goblins, then I don’t care.” His proclivity, no matter how unhealthy, proves salubrious to those previously living in fear of the diminutive raiders, as the “military won’t move against goblins.” (p. 135)

Further, a character who is introduced in a like-manner to the slayer in a conventional genre-work would also be charged with the characteristics partial to fantasy protagonists; which are generally either sullen and given over to reverie (as in Twilight or Lord of the Rings), whimsical and optimistic (as the protagonists in the novels of Charles De Lint), or a straight-laced ‘chosen one’ (as in Harry Potter or Star Wars), however, the slayer bares no similarity to any of these archetypes, or the hero archetype in general. Rather, he is more akin to a professional shorn of all social ambition—a obsessive tradesman—than the prototypical knight-errant of romantic literature. This is demonstrated in the sedulous way in which the slayer’s tradecraft is highlight, as in the following passages, “‘Leather armor prizes ease of movement. Mail would stop a dagger in the dark… His helmet, the same. Sword and shield are small, easy to use in a tight space.'” Kagyu, p. 130… “‘Clean items reek of metal,’ Goblin Slayer said, a note of annoyance in his voice. Goblins have an excellent sense of smell.” p. 132.

Of further interest is the fact that his trade is not a vaunted one, but is, instead, looked down upon as the preoccupation of an amatuer (the consensus in the story is that real heroes should always seek greater glory). One can see parallels between the snobbery of the guild adventurers, and the differential treatment by real-life society between the man who goes to college so as to become a doctor, and the man who goes to trade-school so as to become a lineworker. In recognizing this, Goblin Slayer Vol.1, functions as a cleverly disguised social satire as much as a RPG homage or action-adventure.


The novel series had its origins in a online thread posted by Kumo Kagyu in October, 2012; the story was later re-edited into novel-form and picked up by GA Bunko. On February 15, 2016, the first installment of the novel series was published via SB Creative (in Japanese). A few months later, in December 20, 2016, Yen Press licensed the novels and released the first volume in English. Both a comic (written by Masahiro Ikeno) and an animated adaptation (written by Hideyuki Kurata and Yosuke Kuroda) have been made in the interim since the initial publication of the novel series, which is, presently, still on-going (with ten volumes released in Japan as of 2019).


 

Fiction Circular 7/11/19

THE LOGOS FICTION CIRCULAR is a weekly series which collects independent fiction from around the web so as to treat the works to a wider audience. Recommendations for new author/publisher inclusions are welcome.


§00. Editor’s note: Links affixed to author/publisher’s name (if any) will redirect to author/publisher social media; links affixed to story/article titles will redirect to a relevant site whereupon the named piece is archived. The ‘authors’ section focuses exclusively on individuals who author and publish their own literary work; the ‘organizations’ section focuses exclusively on independent presses (lit-mags, e-zines and other literary outlets comprised of more than one person) who publish fictive work of (at least) more than one author. Lastly, the ‘literary ephemera’ section focuses on non-fiction work, including (but not limited to) certain poems, such as news articles, reviews, interviews and critiques. All author/publication names arranged by alphabetical order (including ‘the’ and ‘a’).


§01. Editor’s note on criteria for inclusion: A publication is considered ‘independent’ if it does not rely upon the staff, organizational prowess, or financial backing, of one or more large corporation, academy, government or other large institution. For example, Sink Hollow Litmag will not be included in the circular, not due to the quality, or lack thereof, of their work, but rather, because they are supported by Utah State University (and thus, are not independent); Thin Air Magazine, likewise is supported (in part) by university funding and hence, will not be included.


§02. Editor’s note on timing of publication: All works included are those read by the editor during the week of publication; their inclusion does not mean that they were written / published the same week as the circular containing them.


AUTHOR (FICTION)

From Jane Dougherty, Ambush.

 “… if I sit here much longer I’ll be so old I’ll have forgotten how to string a bow.” (J. Dougherty, Ambush)


From Jeff Coleman, The One That Got Away.

Giles has the man right where he wants him. He’s not a man, of course—at least on the inside—but something much worse… (Jeff Coleman, The One That Got Away)


From Little Fears, Be Someone.

“Is that another Sprite?” asked Cuttle.

“I think so,” sighed Parrotfish. “It’s depressing. They pass on so fast. They barely have time to figure out who they are.”

“I don’t care,” replied Cuttle. “When I was young, my mum said I could be anyone I wanted.”

“Isn’t that called identity theft?” asked Parrotfish. (LF, Be Someone)


From Shantanu Baruah, Whimsical—A Flash Fiction.

She was a mystery, no one knew where she came from. (S. Baruah, Whimsical)


From The Dark Netizen, the microfiction, Beast.

Its appearance disturbed the quiet of the forest.

The legendary beast was as beautiful as it was ferocious. It made quick work of most of the party. I was enthralled by its presence as it chewed up my last remaining partner. I did not want to harm it.

It didn’t resonate with those thoughts… (Netizen, Beast)


ORGANIZATION (FICTION)

From 101 Words, Exist To Nowhere by Lauren Everhart-Deckard.

We ripped the doors off my rusty mustang, Joni and I. They came off easy, like moth wings. (L. Everhart-Deckard, Exist To Nowhere)


From Aphotic Realm, Sherrick And The Train by Dan Maltbie.

A single BOT stood before the executive area with its blaster mechanically trained on the bounty hunter as a swarm of cleaning drones sprayed and tidied the offices beyond. When Sherrick neared, an electronic croaking emerged from the dingy security robot.

“HALT! Bounty hunter!” (D. Malbie, Sherrick & The Train)


From Crystal Lake Publishing, Shallow Waters Vol.1: A Flash Fiction Anthology (Kindle Edition) edited by Joe Mynhardt.

Shallow Waters—where nothing stays buried.

With twenty-two dark tales diving beneath the surface of loss, love, and life. (Amazon promo synopsis for Shallow Waters Vol.1)


From Horror Sleaze Trash, The Night I Drank With Bukowski’s Ghost by Benjamin Blake.

I took a sip of whiskey, and started playing air guitar along to the bluesy track coming over the speakers. (Benjamin Blake, The Night I Drank With Bukowski’s Ghost)


From Jellyfish Review, Repeat Visitor by Rachel Wagner.

he runs down the hill away from the green monster and steps down its steps to rescue his toys from the car. (R. Wagner, Repeat Visitor)


From Literally Stories, Beneath Your Skin by Rose Banks.

You weren’t yourself, that night. (R. Banks, Beneath Your Skin)


From Milk Candy Review, Bodily Fluids by Marissa Hoffmann.

Nicole Kidman says she doesn’t kill spiders or even ants. I wonder if that’s because she has people to do that for her? (M. Hoffmann, Bodily Fluids)


From New Pop Lit, Jerusalem by Zachary H. Lowenstein.

The air was crisp and cool. The scent of pine was wafting and the Earth continued to exist despite anyone’s desires. (Z. H. Lowenstein, Jerusalem)


From Reflex Press, Hagstone by Chloe Turner (excerpted from her book, Witches Sail in Eggshells).

 She’d thrown off last night’s childish panic; had woken calm, absolved, a greedy hunger in her belly. The answer would come from the stones. (C. Turner, Hagstone)


From Short Prose, Bones (excerpted from Glass Lovers).

“This city lost its compass, I am telling you, Miguel. Bones. This city is filled with bones.” (Excerpted from Glass Lovers)


From Spelk, The Promise Of Science by Tim Love.

Mathematicians love finding connections between once unrelated topics.

Descartes connected geometry and algebra. He had less luck with body and mind — as different as time and space, he wrote. Einstein created space-time but couldn’t connect gravity with quantum mechanics.

Meanwhile entropy and aging took their toll, random mutations accumulating with each cell division, not all bad. The strongest survive. (T. Love, The Promise Of Science)


From The Cabinet Of Heed, Suppose by B. Lynn Goodwin.

Suppose Hannah, age 9, closed her eyes and announced, “I have windowless eyelids”? Would she be creative or silly? (B. L. Goodwin, Suppose)


From The Drabble, Spittin’ by Maura Yzmore.

After Mom turned the house into a shrine, with Father’s photos everywhere, his college graduation portrait spat on me from the windowsill. (M. Yzmore, Spittin’)


From The Fiction Pool, Suvvern Cabman by Tommy Sissons.

The occasional hedonistic partygoer, donned in the macabre, or barely donned at all, was passed out on the yellow lines, dreaming of fluidity – ex-partners and money. Slews of drunken plague doctors, Pennywises, Day of the Dead señors, mime artists, brash women with demonic and celestial get ups bustled into pools of human jungle at every doorway. (T. Sissons, Suvvern Cabman)


From Story Shack, The Lone Pine by Martin Hooijmans (with art by Lars de Ruyter).

In his grief he did not notice that the square had filled up with people, all looking up at him in expectation. When an amplified voice started speaking he noticed though. He also noticed that no one was laughing at him. Then, one by one, lights started flicking on in the buildings surrounding the square, and that’s when he saw. His fellow trees, all decorated as well, surrounded by people laughing happily, brightened the numerous rooms of the buildings. When they saw ‘Lone Pine’ in the middle of the square, he could swear many of them began to glow even more. His heart lifted. (M. Hooijmans, The Lone Pine)


LITERARY EPHEMERA (NONFICTION)

From Alina Hansen, Ceramic (poem #417).


From A Maldivian’s Passion For Romance, a review of Before Jamacia Lane by Samantha Young.


From Cajun Mutt Press, A Perceived Shift by Jonathan Hine.


From Cristian Mihai, Do You Want More Readers? Write Like Yourself.


From David A. Estringel, the poem AI! AI! AI! (A Tartarus For Youth) at Blood Moon Rising Magazine(Issue #77).


From Examining The Odd, Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett).


From Human Pages (Tim Miller), My Mother’s Sister by C. Day-Lewis.


From Jaya Avendel, the poem Inside The Heart.


From Joanna Koch (Horrorsong), Clutch.


From JPC Allen, a writing prompt for those seeking to try their hand at historical fiction.


From Monica Carroll, I Am A Thorn.


From New Pop Lit, a short piece on the literary works of Ayn Rand.

 


From Okay Donkey, the poem Wound Study by H. E. Fisher.


From Søren Gehlert, the poem I Care Beneath The Alcohol.


From The Mystique Books, a review of The Farm by Joanne Ramos.


From The American Sun, a rumination on American culture as reflected in the nation’s fiction in Quiet Desperation is the American Way.


And lastly, from Thoughts Of Steel, The Crucible.


 

Fiction Circular 6/13/19

§00. Editor’s note: links affixed to author/publisher’s name will redirect to author/publisher social media, links affixed to story/article titles will redirect to the site whereupon the named piece is archived. The ‘authors’ section focuses on lone individuals who publish their own literary work, ‘organizations’ section focuses upon independent presses, lit-mags, e-zines and other literary organizations who publish fictive work of multiple authors and ‘literary ephemera’ focuses on non-prose non-fiction literature, such as certain poems, news and art theory articles, reviews, interviews and critiques. All author/publication names arranged by alphabetical order (including ‘the’).


§01. Editor’s note on criteria for inclusion: a publication is considered ‘independent’ if it is self-contained and sustaining, that is to say, if it does not rely upon the staff, organizational prowess or financial backing of large corporations, academies, governments or other large entrenched organizations. For example, Sink Hollow Litmag will not be included on the list, not due to the quality or lack thereof of their work, but rather, because they are supported by Utah State University (and thus, are not independent). All works which are included are those which were read by the editor during the week of publication; their inclusion does not mean that they were published the same week as the circular containing them.


§.AUTHORS

From Circular regular, The Dark Netizen, the microfiction, Studying Fishes, a darkly humorous tale of deep sea exploration and a diver who gets far more than he bargained for. Netizen has a true Shyamalanian talent for twist-endings, one skillfully deployed in Studying.

All I wanted to do was to get closer to the school of undiscovered fish I saw before me.

I was already at maximum safe distance from the vessel.

I had swum out quite far away from the other divers, who were trying to hail me on my communicator.

Ignoring the garbled message I was receiving, I held my arms out in full extension hoping the fishes would come towards me.

My idea worked and all the fishes started swimming towards me, just as I received the message clearly.

“Red alert. Red alert. Return to vessel. Fishes confirmed as man-eaters…” (Netizen, Studying Fishes)


§.ORGANIZATIONS

From Literally Stories, A Major Error in Judgment by Harrison Kim, the tale of a troubled man living in a town which rejects him. One of the more eccentric pieces I’ve read this month.

 “Princetown will not escape my wrath.” (Kim, A Major Error In Judgment)


From Reflex Fiction, the flash-fiction Hidden House by Patrick Flanary, a exposition on the vacuousness of a fickle and passionless affair.

‘I leave Beijing after New Year’s Eve,’ she’d texted. No punctuation, but an emoji stifling its own giddiness with one hand. Maybe Jessica wanted a fling. Yes, maybe tonight, with no tomorrows in store, they would beat the holiday intrusion of solitude together. (Flanary, Hidden House)


From Spelk, the mournful microfiction Urn by Ernest Gordon Taulbee.

When their baby died, the corpse was cremated. They split the ashes and separated. (Taulbee, Urn)


 

Fiction Circular 2/22/19

§00. Editor’s note: links affixed to author/publisher’s name will redirect to author/publisher social media, links affixed to story/article titles will redirect to the site whereupon the named piece is archived. ‘Independent individual authors’ section focuses on lone individuals who publish their own literary work, ‘independent publishing organizations’ section focuses upon independent presses, lit-mags, e-zines and other literary organizations who publish fictive work of multiple authors and ‘literary ephemera’ focuses on non-prose non-fiction literature, such as certain poems, news and art theory articles, reviews, interviews and critiques.


§01. Editor’s note on criteria for inclusion: a publication is considered ‘independent’ if it is self-contained and sustaining, that is to say, if it does not rely upon the staff, organizational prowess or financial backing of large corporations, academies, governments or other large entrenched organizations. For example, Sink Hollow Litmag will not be included on the list, not due to the quality or lack thereof of their work, but rather, because they are supported by Utah State University (and thus, are not independent).


INDEPENDENT INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS

From Byron F. McBride, A Long Night. Reminded me of the first episode of the tv series The Hunger.

The night was over, and I was heading home. Bennett Vandermeer had invited me for dinner, on account of his being featured at the art gallery Pluto-Neon, and his need to shove my face in it.

 

— A Long Night


From The Dark Netizen, a brisk but amusing fractal, Sinking.

The mermaids smile back at the sailors, unaware of the radioactive nature of the submarine’s doomed contents…

 

— Sinking


INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING ORGANIZATIONS

From Defiant Scribe, Grope, by Ian Simons, a surreal comedy concerning the monumental consequences of small happenings.

“The deer gave her a curious grunt as she flew by, and then she continued moving out into a fold in space, a maelstrom amongst the stars that was spinning, smearing old light in the darkness.”

 

— Grope


From Fictive Dream, Solitaire, by Travis Cravey. A flash fiction about mental illness.

“She didn’t say goodnight, or kiss my forehead, or tuck me in. She just kept playing solitaire. Sometimes I could hear her crying. But she never stopped playing.”

 

— Solitaire


From Flash Back Fiction, The Fur-puller, by Peter Burns, a dour, historical fiction concerning a poor, afflicted family struggling in England. Whilst it is somewhat maudlin in a begging-Mr. Bumble-for-gruel kind of way, its also deftly written. The tonally resonant audio-reading accompanying the story further adds to the Dickensian experience.

Mr. Matthews lays the sack on the scales. Rose doesn’t blink, for fear of missing the tilt of it, doesn’t breathe, for fear of losing more than she already has. Billy coughs like he always does, dry and brittle.

 

 

— The Fur-puller


From Reflex Fiction, White Line, by John Brantingham, a brisk flash fiction piece which follows a man’s reflection on violence, basketball, scars and stoicism.

From Storgy, The Perfect Family, by Susan Bloch, a sorrowful tale of a seemingly wonderful family that hides a dark secret. A study of inaction and its consequences.

That was the last time I saw Holly before sirens went off at midnight. Before medics carried out a black bag on a stretcher.

 

— The Perfect Family


From Surfaces, Not Me, by the inimitable Manuel Marrero. A impressive, soaring, dizzyingly baroque debut for the Paul Allen business card of literary websites. * best of the week

American life had subsided into an almost zen-like complacency, the Hegelian end, anathema for the Judeochristian disciples, ripe agency for the monolatrists. But vatic forces were gathering now to disrupt their binary equilibrium.

 

— Not Me


From The Rational Argumentator, The Wales Technique, by Gennady Stolyarov II. The story of a actuary who grapples with the problem of a blank spot in his predictive models. Mr. Stolyarov’s story is quite refreshing, as it is the only scifi story I can remember reading this year that isn’t a grim dystopia.

“The Black Hole… I can see it clearly in the region with fewer data points.”

— The Wales Technique


From X-R-A-Y, Spores, by Lukasz Drobnik. A surrealistic and metaphorical take on the superhero genre. Superb prose.

The monkeys can see her from afar with their laser eyes, their shark-like teeth glistening in the dark.

 

— Spores


LITERARY EPHEMERA

From Adam Lock, Is The Talented Writer A Myth? The short answer is “no,” it is a reduction. For those without preternatural receptivity to literary ends, practice avails. Mr. Lock writers: “Good writing is a talent. This idea has always frustrated me because it is indiscriminate and takes no heed of the hours of hard work a writer puts in to improve their craft.” I would contend that good writing IS a talent (the baseline for all human behavior is genotypic), but it is not only arrived at by way of individual genetic proclivity (ie. where sociality comes into play). Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the premise which Mr. Lock attempts to untangle, his piece is well worth a read (especially if one happens to be a author or would-be author).

-is there is a distinction between mindless repetition and deliberate practice.

 

— Is The Talented Writer A Myth


From The Arcanist, It Cost Ray Bradbury $9.80 in Dime To Write ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ by Josh Hrala, a historical-philosophical piece concerning how it was that Ray Bradbury came to write his well-known science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451 (originally titled, The Fireman) on a dime-rented typewriter. One of the reasons the piece stands out is its focus on work ethic (and the lack thereof amongst the writerly class); a topic which the author notes in the opening,

“There’s this false notion among non-writer folk that in order to sit down and write a novel, conditions must be perfect. As if writers have to perform a series of rituals designed for channeling an elusive, just-out-of-touch muse. Writing only by candlelight after sipping Colombian espresso on Thursday mornings while wearing a smoking jacket and facing true north, for example.”

A excellent piece. Highly recommended reading, especially for would-be authors.

I got a bag of dimes and settled into the room, and in nine days I spent $9.80 and wrote my story; in other words, it was a dime novel.”

— Ray Bradbury


Thanks for reading.

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Archive Obscura: A List of Small, Independent Literary Publications

Editor’s note: this list is still being compiled and will be updated semi-regularly. Names of publications arranged in alphabetical order (with numbers preceding letters). Links will be added shortly. If you are a member of one of the organizations listed and you wish to be removed (or if you are not and wish to be added), email us at logosliterature@yandex.com, or contact our administrator.


101 Words [@101words]

Channillo [@_Channillo]

Defiant Scribe [@Defiant_Scribe]

Drunken Pen Writing [@drunkpenwriting]

Ellipsis Zine [@EllipsisZine]

Fictive Dream [@FictiveDream]

FlashBack Fiction [@FlashBackFic]

Flash Fiction Magazine [@flashficmag]‏

Forge Litmag [@forge_litmag]

gn0me [@gnOmebooks]

Gray Matter Press [@GreyMatterPress]

Hagstone Publishing [@HagstonePub]‏

Idle Ink [@_IdleInk_]

Jokes Review [@JokesReview]

Literally Stories [@LiterallyStory]

Lunarian Press [@LunarianPress]‏

Monkey Bicycle [@monkeybicycle]

Okay Donkey [@okaydonkeymag]

Reflex Press [@reflexfiction]

Sinister Grin Press [@SinisterGrinPre]

Spelk [@SpelkFiction]

Story Shack [@thestoryshack]‏

Surfaces [@SURFACEScx]

Terror House Magazine [@terrorhousemag]

The Arcanist [@The_Arcanists]

The Copybook [@CopybookThe]

The Crusader Magazine [@TheCrusaderMag]

The Dark Calls [@The_Dark_Calls]‏

The Molotov Cocktail [@MolotovLitZine]

X-R-A-Y [@xraylitmag]


More publications will be added as we find them.

Tomb of the Father: Chapter One, Traveler On The Moor

The sky was dark as the carapace of the beetles which scurried hither and thither beneath the flinty, scattered boughs of the gnarled and dying trees as the man moved over the khaki hillocks of the endless moor, the traveling lamp unshuttered the world in its eastward descent unto oblivion as if following the lonely soul in his argent passage. Wind-chaffed and weary, that solitary figure trudged over a low slope and descended liken to the effulgent sphere above him as a scattering of sheep ran zig-zag about him, fleeing off down the incline to congregate about the fires of some aged vaquero. The cowherd bivouacked in a stony vale, buttressed all about by a high semi-circle of tors that girded he and his odd-baying wards from the buffets of the world. To the left of a fire-pit which had been hastily constructed and ringed about with the scarce, ashen sediment of the moor stood a diminutive palfrey, outfitted with naught but a loosely strapped saddle-cloth and whisp’d reigns of hair.

The stranger looked on a while and then adjusted his leather belt and heavy pack, his shoulder o’er thrown and looked to the storm-wall building up in the far-flung distance and then back again and made haste to the camp seeking harbourage from the ravishment encroaching.

Small flickering tongues of flame hacked away the shade from the rocky outcropping and illuminated the face of the beasts and men alike and for a brief spheres-turning all was silent save for crackling stutter of burning wood and the muted shuffling of the graze-beasts upon the heath.

The vaquero looked the stranger up and down and then bade him to the warmth of his shelter, the invitation, readily accepted.

“What queer business brings such as thee to this long-forsaken vale?”

The stranger set himself down beside the fire and warmed his aching bones and then turned to his benefactor with a countenance both dire and faraway, as if he were intensely enveloped in the contemplation of something from a time long past or yet still to come.

“No business but chance. I make pilgrimage to Caer Tor, but upon my way my horse didst fall; eaten by ague. So, with a heavy heart, I put sword to spine and ended the sorry beast’s suffering and continued on my way afoot; this barren waste the last obstacle o’er which I must leap to reach my kinsmen’s warm embrace, they unprimed of my arrival.”

The cowherd nodded as if sense had been made of the thing and some semblance of trust both established and reciprocated.

“Thou mayst call me, Ealdwine.”

As the stranger took the old man’s hand and shook it firmly he spoke with something liken to shame frittering about his dulcet tones.

“Gunvald Wegferend.”

“Curious name that, such that it sounds not of this thede, nor any other.”

“That alone is a story in the retelling.”

“The isolation of the moor doth unfix the tongue from its rightful wagging – but worry not, I shan’t pry. Thy business is thy own and thine own to keep.”

“I mind not, old man, but would thank thee for the comfort of thy wild-twinkling foyer, the effulgence of the firmament, for all its dazzling brightness did little to gird me from frost’s fell grasp. Hark! Hear ye that sound?”

The old man half turned upon the old log on which he sat, cocking an ear in the direction of the wide, outer dark. Then he shook his hoary head and returned his attention to the wayfarer.

“Nay, I hear nothing.”

Ealdwine leaned closer to the stranger, his grizzled visage demon-like in the interplay of dark and flame.

“There are always noises upon the heath. Sounding with great regularity, not all tricks of a frightened mind at that. There are skinks, efts, wild dogs and shrews and grouse and geese, adders and crickets aplenty. Oftimes the big-horned rams from the far mountains loose themselves from that stony prison and, wayward, wander in quizzical vexation about this lonely place. Wild hearts beating with the echoing confusion the land sings aplenty. Upon such happenings, I see them stray into the marsh which stretches like a great and black-blooded gash across the earth at the far southern end of the moor, like a wound from some titian’s own brand. If so they stray, they will invariably fall prey to the silent monster with maw eternal-arced and hunger endless and strain against the bog-hold, crying out, strangely human, into the fire-pitted welkin where nary an ear but mine can hear tell of their sorry plight. At last their rangy heads and heaving flanks will vanish beneath the sinkhole and with that disappearance so to do their cries subside and all is at once, silent and severe.”

Gunvald, sensing the old herder sought his fear, crossed his thick and iron banded arms about his cuirassed chest and raised a brow.

“Canst thou not aid the poorly beasts?”

“Fools errand that twould be, none but a scion of God could navigate that blasted place with sureness of foot. The first false step means death, to man or beast. For there is naught living that can escape that fetid pit when once it has thee in its soggy grip.”

“Tis a fine thing then that I am no horny ram.”

“You should not make light of such turnings, for there is a ordering to things beyond our comprehension and a truth it seems to me that those who scoff at the plight of that whom The Creator hath deigned to snatch away laugh also at Him, for is not such cessation but part and parcel of his plan? What greater sacrilege could there but to scoff at the very pathing of the world. So take heed, traveler, thy laugh at thy own peril for thy laugh unto the very face of God.”

Gunvald furrowed his brows and then adjusted his belted scabbard such to bend better towards the heat and there a moment refreshed himself and then straightened and addressed the old man.

“Thy words well become a man of your occupation. Tis rightful that men of the earth should, with their deeds as with their tongue, extol it.”

“Yes. But ye yet say naught pertaining to the truth of it.”

“It is not for men of my station to interpret such eldritch things. I’ve not the brain for it and, lacking the intelligence, lack also the words. My voice is in my sword for redder conversations than this.”

“A soldier then?”

“Aye. Hark. Again I hear it.”

Before the old man could speak three vast shadows subsumed the rocky outcropping and footed there, three men, feral eyed and brigandined. There was between them several swords and daggers, all of which reflected like ghostly fires neath the cool sheen of the shrouded, waning moon.

The cowherd and his compatriot rose with suddenness, Gunvald’s hand flying instinctively to the leather-bound pommel of his gilded blade, gifted him by his father, late. He drew the blade in the same instant and stepped forth with a fencer’s feline grace, eyes steady as poise, emotion cold as the brand which glinted orange with the low-crackling fire.

“Who goes?”

“Put that away afore ye hurt yeself,” a pudgy member of that ratty trio mouthed with a wide, sinister grin.

Another, the shortest and ugliest member of that threesome, a hunchback, swiped the air with his weapon, a cudgel as loathsome as the visage of its wielder, which caused the sheep to bah-bah and retreat civilly to the very edges of the high, stone cliffs.

“Looks as if we’ve a froggy one! I’ll take him myself and to our master bring his head!”

“Silent and still be the both of you,” Thundered the tallest member of that sordid corp, a man some thirty years of age, angular of face and form, he wielding a grain scythe in his leather-strapped hands.

Gunvald knew not the providence of such beings but their intention was plainly writ; the Narrow War had made many such fell creations, the ungainly trio being but lesser manifestations of the insurrections twisted deviance. Their movements furtive. Eyes more beast than man.

“You must excuse my friends, tisn’t oft we chance upon such ill-girded company.”

Gunvald smiled fractionally.

“So you think.”

“So I know.”

“Try me then, brigand, and may Marta bless the better man.”

Malefactorous, the night-stalker advanced hesitantly across the muddy ground, well-slicked with welkin-mourn, farm scythe held awkwardly before him, as if it were some mighty polearm. All the while the thief drew forth Gunvald moved nary an inch, his eyes and bones and blade fractions of a singular whole, still as the stone surrounding. At the last, as the dread-scythe arced through the air with a furious humming, the soldier tore himself from his rooted shade and feinted the blow with the mid-side of his great-brand and delivered a sunderous riposte that severed the brigand’s arm from its socket.

A faint mist of red fluttered through the air like tiny moths from some otherworld of dreams and portents and landed upon the ground as the gory limb flopped down beside them like a huge and malformed fish. A startling howl tore from the rouges’ throat, as if it were his soul that had been rent from the body rather than a mere arm, the sound resounding throughout the high towering outcroppings and fading up into the night as if suffering were drawn unto the dark.

The flock bah-bah-ed nervously and stomped their hooves as their Shepard starred on, wide-eyed but resolved.

Gunvald turned to the remaining cretins who paused a moment, looking to the triumphal warrior, clad in moon-glint mail, then to the leaking appendage that still clutched the scythe and then to the man to which the arm used to belong, some seven feet away, flat on his back, writhing like a punctured horseshoe crab, his agony so great that nothing now but muted moans escaped his wide spaced maw, lips flexing like roiling bait-worms fresh off some fisherman’s hook.

With a startled cry the felonious duo turned tail and fled off into the night, their lanky shadows odd-angling under the skies auspicious glow, shortly thereafter wholly swallowed up into the hazy outer null. Gunvald made to swiftly follow but was held aback by the vaqueros cry, “No! They fly to the marshlands. Heed my words: Let them fly, no man can traverse such cursed terrain under the pall of night!”

Gunvald nodded and watched them fade off into the wide sea of black and then exhaled heavily, as the old man looked mournfully towards the dying thief.

Then all was sheep-call and bird-caw and fire-hiss and the hideous bleating of a lost and dying soul.

At length, Gunvald turned to his fallen foe who instantly began, once more, to shriek unto the vaulted sphere of night. His eyes bugging into enormous disks, strange-lit by the dancing flames of the softly crackling fire. Just as swiftly the man’s howling was silenced by the point of Gunvald’s blade piecing his armor and heart, there pinning him to the ground as he wriggled like some great and misshapen insect. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and a final gasp of breath escaped his mouth, issuing high up into the moist and roiling air. Then nothing but the clacking of hooves and the whistling of clay-scented wind, raving out over the great and scoured ambit of the rain-washed plane.

At length Gunvald, put his boot to the silent brigand’s chest and pulled free his bloody brand and then bent to the dead man and from his head cut a thick and charcoal lock of hair. He moved from the site of execution to the firepit and knelt before the red, closing his eyes and uttering a strange mantra unto the dancing embers, as if they’d ears to hear it.

What has gone, is what is come.

And from my hands, I give to yours.

That which is rightfully owed.

His life to your light, now and forever unending.

Give us both your pardon.

Let him keep his rest.

May your light engulf the world and every other.

When the soldier had finished his prayer and tossed the lock of hair into the fire and watched it burn with keen intensity, as if revelations would speak in shocking tongues from beneath those puffs of thin, gray smoke. When they did not he rose from the ground and set himself down upon one of the flat stones which the vaquero had hauled to the pit to keep himself well clear of the ground as he warmed his old bones. The vaquero looked to the knight a moment, then the fire, then the knight and spoke, his voice uneven, afeared.

“The hunchback mentioned they’re master.”

Gunvald nodded vaguely and gestured towards the old man for something to drink for which he was rewarded with a flask of sour, salty rice-wine. The soldier grimaced but downed it all the same, feeling a hot sensation in the pit of his stomach. He leaned over the flames, cradling the flask between his heaved gloved hands and addressed the cattle-herder with deadpan seriousness.

“Likely to me it seems that such those that fled were but part of some larger band. Raiders. From the hillands. Long have they warred with Tor. The nature of the conflict lost to the annals of history and the sands of time. T’would be unwise of thee to tarry.”

“Aye, they were at that. Though lonesome it may appear to thee, across the bogland there is green grass than this. It is there I’d graze my woolly friends were there space to do it. Alas, the land is owned and off I’d be run in not half a minute. Greedy land owners to the south and bloody thirsty raiders to the north, such is my plight, traveler, so much as it might behoove me to pack up and flee, I’ve no where to go.”

The vaquero fell silent a good long while, his eyes cast to the flames, as Gunvald took the information in solemnly and stroked his burgeoning beard as if in meditation. When at last the old man raised his face from the fire there was great sadness in his eyes.

“Ye didn’t have to kill him.”

Gunvald paused a moment and then met his elder’s gaze with dark amusement shinning in his steely eyes.

“So even thee questions the order of the world. Thee, thyself said it twas paramount to a question of the very nature of God. Is this your project, vaquero?”

The old man, shocked by his own hypocrisy, fell silent and did not respond. The soldier continued on, heedless.

“Of course it is, what else could it be. It is the project of any and all sane and questioning men. It was this very project that led me to reject The Eternal Being, for such a presence, he who is eternal, all powerful and everywhere at all times and places is said to lack in nothing – a fatal error, he lacks in one thing and one thing alone, limitation. As such there is none to bear witness to He, none to say that He is this and they are that. A being beyond witnessing is thus a being beyond our ken.”

“A warrior-poet. How singular. Yet you keep to Lady Marta?”

“The Prayer of the Dead you mean? Something my mother taught me – an old habit. Nothing more. Nothing more.”

With that silence fell once more over the stony outcropping as a chill wind swept in from the norther mountains, bringing in its wake a dreadful downpour that washed the blood from the body of the arm-less brigand and carried it out and down the trough of the encampment to puddle in the sodden moor. In that fetid broths reflection were the wings of a dozen crows who cawed madly and scrapped the sky with their metallic talons and torn off in wide wheeling circulations through the closing storm-wall as thunder and lightening fell upon the plain and redressed the world in the garments of the mad.

Their cries were like lamentations.

For the dead. The dying.

And all those still to die.


Sample from my forthcoming novel, Tomb of the Father, provided for the purposes of critique and commentary.