- a fable -

The cities of Sarambanipore and Meludamma, like twin sisters, faced each other across the narrow waters of the Wadari Strait. Legend had it that each city had been founded by a goddess, and that supposedly the two goddesses were sisters and mortal enemies. Few but the most erudite scholars knew that, in the oldest texts, both these goddesses were merely different names for the same deity.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Sarambanipore and Meludamma had been sporadically at war for centuries, albeit a strangely ritualised and almost lackadaisical form of war. Every spring, as the siluspra flowers were about to bloom, flotillas of boats would set sail from the two cities, filled with the year's crop of young men in their prime. They would meet in the center of the straits, and do battle armed with long poles, with which they tried to knock each other into the waters. Anyone who fell in was counted dead, and went to live in the other city as a slave for a term of one year.

These slaves were generally treated well, and returned home, sometimes bringing new wives from their temporary stay in the other city across the waters.

So passed centuries, and every year, the siluspra flowers bloomed for a new crop of slaves being welcomed from across the water. For generations, this strange war continued with hardly a lost life, except for the odd accident.

One year, however, a young man from Sarambanipore returned from his enslavement with a bitter heart, for his erstwhile master had been a cruel man, and the young man, now slave no more, had been greatly mistreated. Restored to his home town, he began to speak of the city across the water. As he spoke, others remembered small injuries and insults from their own time as slaves, and the resentment spread.

Next year, in the spring battle, the embittered Sarambaniporean youth fought with unusual determination, and several Meludammans actually drowned. The two parties went home without the usual festivities. By the time another six years had passed, the mood had worsened enough that the participants were armed not with poles, but with long hooks and lances. Blood coloured the waters of the strait.

Thirty years later, both sides were shelling each other across the strait with long-range cannons. Soon after, as if by simultaneous decision, both sides launched an attack with shells filled with poison gases. Countless thousands died as the toxic clouds drifted through the streets.

The few survivors from the attacks fled the two cities, leaving them as sepulchral remnants. Though greatly damaged by the shelling, and with many of the once-magnificent marble buildings discoloured with the stains of the chemicals in the gas bombs, the cities were still beautiful in their own way.

And on both sides of the Wadari Strait, the siluspra flowers bloomed in springtime, with none left to see them.

This short story was published, in Danish translation, in issue 37 of "Himmelskibet", a Danish magazine of fantastic literature.

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