The Song of Ceber

Argument: After the devastation wrought by Takara's plot, Ceber and Medy cross a battlefield where humans have killed each other in great number. There they encounter Aaron the Archer who wishes vengeance on Ceber for killing his brother Kabar.

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When winter       wins and all the
Plants play dead       please remember
How much colder the mountains were that year
When our Ceber and Medy
Crossed into a forest-cut land
Where trees had been razed
Not one left,       none standing.
Snow covered trucks       charred bark staining
The white snow       leaving black smears
On the otherwise       spotless mountains.
The sky held no color but
The storm had now blazed itself out.

Honest Ceber and her lover
Left tracks in the hard-packed sooty snow.
Snowflakes melted on their bodies
They had themselves       for temperature
For hard-earned       heat.
They treaded quickly.
Passing the not-forest
They came to a battlefield.

Arrows pork’pined the ground
Pinning humans       in place,
The mammals       murdered by each other.
Fighting for       a fair fortress
A defensible       fierce fortress
Atop a hill around which
Like a fall pear tree
Its fruit lay ripening in the snow
Juices ruby red       rancid
Through the snow that
Clothed the world       climbed the mountains.

The battlefield was a bowl
A depression
With the fort on the hill in the center,
Mountains on the edges,
Bodies between.

One side with shining       bloodstained greaves
Gripped shields blazoned with locusts.
These, the looters,       lay where they fell
Feeding the thirsty ground with their blood.
Their enemy’s flag toppled from the castle’s tower
Had the human’s       heathen ape god
Standing in victory triumphant.

The oily war god,       Ausohara’s Shame
Came to them all there
Inspiring them like a muse of madness
To hack the trees down,
To make engines       to engage their enemies.
These great towers of wood       broken on the hill
Around which men lie
Far too fetid       to feed upon
Not that Ceber would have dared disturb the dead.
A million pounds of flesh wasted.

At the tower top       the man-tyrant
Faced down with his great enemy
Kenet, an atheling       from northern Ayeguay.
Both slain       each by their own swords
Locked in lances       until frost relents
And rot intervenes.

Medy shivered,       “Dear Ceber,
We need to pass this place.
It is cursed.       Only carcasses can profit here.”

Ceber said, “Never have I seen such a battlefield.
Those war machines       mechanical monsters
Account for most       but the arrows
Flying spindles       struck many a man.
Some of the soldiers       surely froze
After their wounds dropped them.
I was made for long hard war
Either these months have       made me soft
Or this is something strange       I see.
This battle looks bitter
A pointless war       with no winners
No glory to be sung at home.
Only death and the assured sundering
Of courageous combatants.
If this was       a weird war
What of my home.
Of Valayis, of antland?
Are they dead too?
Shall I return?
Risk my head?
The banished shan’t return—.”

Medy spoke,       “Pretty Ceber
I can see your home and tell you.
Scout ahead       see how the land fairs.
You can’t risk it.       I can’t let you.
There is a guiding star
North of here
That shows sailors on distant seas
The right path home.
Ceber, to me you are that star.
Without you, I’d be dead.
Lost, cursed, forever gone.
So let’s see your home.
I will be your eyes
As you are mine.
I’m sure it’s fine, your home.
Do not let this poor country discourage you.”

Ceber saw wisdom in this, she did.
Toward Valayis       they turned
Moving along towering       mountains.
Wasps are not built for snow
The frozen rain       retarded their run
In the Dora Mountains they stopped.
The drifts themselves       mountains there.

“We’re out of luck,” Medy said.
“Cowering in caves       may not be considered brave
But it beats out       freezing in this frost.”

“Then we look for caves,”       Ceber said.

Yet not so!
For four humans       had found them.
A challenge by bowshot
An arrow from       Aaron the Archer
Landed at Ceber’s feet.

He and his company       stood a hill distant
Looking down on the two
An easy sniping position
Protected by snow.

“Black wingless wasp, I recognize you!”
Sharp-eyed Aaron called across.
His voice a bell over the snow,
A crisp, clear       strong call.
“My name is Aaron, you will remember me.
My brother was Kabar who you did slay.
Whose mighty hunting party you did waylay.
My bright iron dagger you will see.
You wasp, will die by me, your true enemy!”

Silent Ceber       no stranger to trouble
said, “You must be mistaken.
I'm new to these parts
And do not care for danger.
Do not see me for some sinister stranger.”

Aaron answered,       “No, I know you.
For I see spear-marks       on your skin
White against your black.
You've fought men,       I've faith,
Within this very year.”

“Consider,”       Ceber said,
“You stand with four men.
I’m twinned out       at twice that.
Combat cannot       end well.
Leave us       Live long.
Or fight and die.
This mountain is       already in mourning.
When the cold day closes       bury the corpses yonder.
Do not die yourself.”

“Those dead are not of my kin
And no use to me,”       quoth he.
“And I see one fighting wasp
And one stingless man-wasp.
And the fighting wasp,
She has no wings.”

Fearless Ceber replied,
“Wings or no,       arrows or not,
The outcome is       completely clear.
Nock an arrow and I will end you.”

“The tree god cent me certainty!
With this bow I could thread a needle
At a hundred steps!
When Malebekc       The Snake Demon
Threatened these hills I threaded him
Through his eye!
No larger than a march fly,
But I put it out!
A clear day that was
And the demon charged fast
All odds on his       awful side,
But in luck versus skill
Skill wins every time.
Now here you are,
Surrounded by snow.
You can’t charge       and are outlined
‘Gainst the snow!       It will slow you down,
Black hornet.       To your death it will bring you.”

“A problem       prohibitory, perhaps,”
Strong-armed       Ceber said.
“And your distance       derisive, yet not decisive.
Worse odds       worse foes I've fought.
I give my chances at good.
Even with arrows
Those flying spindles
You humans       hide behind.
What good glory       can you garner
From disrespectful       distance?
If you can’t feel your enemy’s heart stop–
Then that’s not battle
— It might be war,
But there is no honor in it.
You sit behind       your braveless bow
Shooting from       selfish safety
While real warriors       win the fight.
I hate that kind of       heartless hero.
Claiming credit       with cowardice.
Meet me       in combat, man.
Honorably here in the snow.”

“Honor? There is no honor in revenge,”
Aaron said,       sending an arrow arching
Through the sky.
Tired of talk,       murder on his mind,
He had bored.
The shaft like a wasp in the air
Ready to bury its sting in Ceber.

“Medy down!” shouted Ceber.
She hopped in a dash,
Hopping through the snow like a hare
At the human.
Sixteen spans she crossed
Leaping from spot to spot
Each arrow missing by inches
Striking the soft       crystalline snow.

Aaron retreated by steps,       not nearly enough
For she was on top of his company
Faster than he dared believe.
He struck her with his bow
When she crossed the gulf,
Bringing it down upon her head
With all his might.

She wasn't fazed.
She broke the bow       with a bite
And drove forward.
He took his knife and stabbed her.
She chopped his arm off
At the joint       with her vise-like jaws.
His scream was great
As she chopped him up.
His companions fell on her with sword and dagger
And she butchered them there.
No other of their kin knew
An un-gardened grave       grew there
Visited by none,       known by no one.
And so was artful Aaron       the archer.

“Ceber, astounding!” Medy said.
“The Weaver Worms       will write this day.
Without wings       victory won!
Even with wings       a warrior
Would have had to ward against
Defeat and death       in that duel!
If hostile forces hold Valayis
They should be terrified.”

Quote heroic Ceber:
“Men and spiders assure victory,
But wasps?
The Kuroni, my sisters?
Aye, there’s a fair fight.
Reluctant to sting,
Reluctant to run.
Oh, I would win,       wings or not,
If I had heart enough.
Or no heart at all perhaps.
But against friends and neighbors?
That’s not a nice business.
If all of Valayis       is allied against me
I’ll forfeit.”

Good Medy the skeptic replied,
“That’s why we test       the waters.
I am new.       They do not know me.
I have a strangers purview.
I’ll spy out the secrets,       Ceber,
And report the facts.”

“In Ja-Kara Zăd       I heard tell of a coup.
From a ghost, one of those lost souls.
If it is true that the dead see the future
My enemies may be in control.
I don’t want to be prophecy’s dog
But where there’s a web, there’s a spider.”

At this Medy answered,
“Why, Spider’s thread tells       no real truth.
Silk worms sing the future       not spiders.
Trust not the half-truths       of tamed souls.”

“Then to Valayis,”       Steelèd Ceber said.
“Whatever trouble comes, we’ll finish it!”

The Song of Ceber

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