Three Men Walking West
rating: +3+x

When he had been young, Eden had heard his father speak of war. Herman told Eden of the mists of the West; it was a telling that had been done in the Valley for many years, since the battle of the Riverlake, but Eden had kept it closer to his heart than he had ever noticed before now. The morning light felt empty and formless as they traveled home through it. He realized that he could not touch it, and he wondered if that was not something that had been lost.

In the Spring, the savage winter will give up its efforts. Wet will come to the land and the grass, which had eaten the snow, will in turn birth a water smoke into the sky. This smoke is easy, and not like men make. It gives itself to smoothing the brow, caressing the soul, and sweetening all passions. During the fighting, they would carry the Red Men about, turn them in circles, swallow their warriors and war-riders. So it was that the Red Men would replace this water smoke with a fire smoke wherever they could, to open the country to their marching. And while peace returned to the Valley, the mist did not; light hung separately in Herman’s place forevermore.

The morning star had begun to deliver its promise of warmth and light even as Eden’s muscles were finally beginning to burn from the slight burden that was the Greenhand. The night had perished in the dark that accompanied them back across the riverlake. The bush grew lighter as they fled the ash of the East. As America deepened in its luster, Eden knew them to be drawing closer to home.

They groped their way past the various ascents demanded by their homecoming, broke from a final treeline, and came across an expanse of particular breadth and scope unmatched by any of the rocky breaks in foliage they had been privy to on their journey. The sun sat atop the mountains when they caught sight of the Painted Fathers.

They walked up to the thing, a boulder ensconced in the Earth. It was marked in paint with faces that Eden had known from an early age as his family, his neighbors, and his gods. Northman moved to conduct drill for them, so that their entombed blood might permit them entrance, but Herman rested a hand on his shoulder.

“Please, my friend,” he said, “For old times’ sake.”

Northman hesitated before stepping aside and handing Herman his weapon. “Of course, sir.”

Herman took up the gun, cleaned it, marched with it, primed it with phantom powder and phantom shot. He led the regiments of their ancestors in an impeccably precise display of martial routine. Though it had been many years since he had first performed this rite, his cadence did not waver an inch as he conducted the drill’s finishing touches, saluted the boulders, and returned the gun to its caretaker.

In appraisal of his work, the painted fathers sat silent, as they were stone, but beyond them the sun’s rays began to splash upon them as they were suddenly thrown about through fire-smoke. The light had unfurled itself into a high palisade ringing houses, towers and smoke-stacks. Eden could see the holy fumes of the hearthfire rising well into the sky, hear the light bustle of morning rounds, and inhale a trickling odor of what he knew to be the holiest brew of all: coffee. And by these tokens he knew their journey was at an end.

The group toted the Greenhand up to a gate, above which a guard – bearded, awash in knives, hides, and munitions, leaning against a worn-out looking Glowpaw that sputtered indignantly at their arrival - slept at his post. “Furman!” Northman shouted. The sleeping man was shocked awake, wild and wide-eyed. He dropped his weapon and momentarily dipped out of sight to retrieve it before leveling it at them.

“In whose name do you accost us?” he shouted from his bloodshot retinas.

“We bear not crimson nor cruciform aberrance. Your chief commander wants for entry. Grant it, or I’ll see to it Felman has you disarmed.”

Furman pulled the gates open and they walked inside the domestic quarter where the rows of longhouses just beginning to wake up bore signs and symbols of their livelihood and daymaking. Children were guided along the way to the posthouse for schooling by the Reverend Mothers. Parents going and coming from the Smokehouse smelt of appeals, unliquored coffee, and fouler moods concerning a feud in the West. A cadre of men whose turn it was to muster marched past, and eventually the trio came to Eden’s house.

Herman’s father had had the hall built for the thousand sons he had dreamed of, and it stood as tall and as hollow as those dreams had bore themselves out to be. In spite of the ancillary nature of the halls in the domestic quarter, Eden had once known it as home. Now he knew the sight of it to cut fear into him, that he would rise in the morning and find his ties there severed, and he would have no more reason to live in that place. He would repair to the country and crops, and enter death there. His father, too, felt something, though Eden was incapable of imagining what; Herman’s eyes passed over the family standard, for the prophecy it spoke was finally revealed as he and his son rested the Greenhand aside the far wall.

“We’ll take Bringsjoy back to her pen,” Northman said, “Try to get some sleep.” Eden hugged his father and watched the two of them past the smokehouse and the merchant’s quarter, which was beginning to feel the morning swell. He went inside and shut the door, the sound echoing throughout the empty house.

Halfway empty, anyway. Greeting him at the threshold was the one sole remaining permanent occupant. It gazed down at him from the rafters with eyes that had once spotted prey on a Falconhunt, which the blades in its paws – soft for the moment – would wrench out of the sky as a matter of course, and using more of the faculties beneath its little skin, it spoke to him.
“Welcome home, child. You look as though you’ve journeyed for many nights, and smell it more. Tell me who lets you live here.”
“The house’s Craftsman, who sits in my blood,” he said to the cat. It leapt down silently, and began to purr and rub up against his legs. He picked it up, kissed it, and looked into its eyes.

“It is good to see you, Flinthoof,” Eden said. “When did you return from your duty?”

“Last night. I killed the poor rat, but you should have seen Felman try to get one over on me. He is a man possessed by a memory of excellence. I pity him.”

“Did you do what I asked?”

“He would not see me, the same as your father. They are not the right way; their mouths and eyes are closed to breath and light. The end is painted on their skin. I am sorry.”

He put Flinthoof down, where he began to lick himself. “Keep trying,” Eden said, “They deserve it.” He made for the diner in the next room. Before he left, Flinthoof addressed him, “I see three men who are quiet and away, Eden, not two. We can speak later, if you want.”

“No.”

“Then you know what will come of me trying with the others.”

“I know.”

And as the shadow behind him moved away Eden left.

The ports and chambers he passed radiated a dark that belied their luminance. He passed the diner, around which ten places remained set and accounted for. He noted he would need to attend to their maintenance soon enough due to the lightest sheen of dust beginning to accumulate upon the fireholder, and the Ember kissed by its flame what would’ve been once used for the apportioning of meat. He almost tread past the Arsenal, but the journey to the North and the acquiry of the Greenhand had put a feeling inside him to enter it.

He stepped inside through the open doorway and marveled at the artistry of the sleeping weapons. They lay stacked on a rack at the far end of the room. He stepped closer to the two rifles of his father: a Redclaw and a Bluepaw. He remembered the time his mother had attended to this room, when she was alive, as an aspect of his education, and how little he understood of it then.
He remembered her saying, “Speak softly, for the brides and husbands of your father’s father sleep in this place.”
And he had said, “Wood sleeps?”

She said, “Wood sleeps when the family sleeps. Do you know your nursery?”

“Yes.”

“Here is the nursery of our history. Come here to watch our nation sleep, and see how it might plant seeds to shoot up and grow again, like the forest, and like the men of old.”

He stepped closer to the Redclaw, and he inspected it. On a whim, he plucked it from its place on the wall.

He had touched guns before, both those built and those stamped in the mountains far and across the way in the higher, deeper West, and while the Redclaw was the quietest he had ever touched, it was nothing like the dead iron of those that sat within the barracks armory. It had been asleep for many years but it unmistakably shifted in its rest at the embrace of his cold fingertips, and when he put his ear to the hammer, he could see a terrible vision, and bloodier thoughts. He knew that if he deigned to load it, it would rise to life as though it had descended into peaceable slumber a mere day or hour beforehand. It would go suddenly to the last slaughter and bring death to all tyrants. All indicators spoke that it was a tool for a less civilized time, and he withdrew from it quickly.

The Redclaw had been washed clean of its original hue, its wood made canvas for a history of war and tragedy. His grandfather would’ve had a man or his own self take hours to transmit one image to the wood for his son to remember, by way of paint and brush. To this end, he had selected the birth of the ashen west.

In his years of existing prior to the breaking of his house, Eden had never bore the courage to look at the picture with any sense of understanding; he recalled time and again when, in the dead of night before the passing of his grandfather, the old hunter had spent his time in the same Arsenal accompanied by a belly full of rum, laughs, and tears. In a house that was quiet all but for the winter winds, the snoring of his older brothers, and the passionate exertion that impressed itself upon his parents, on the nights that Eden was particularly soft, and particularly unfussy, he would extricate himself from the second floor, descend the stairs, and watch his father’s father as he remembered the time of fire.

In the East, the trees are bounded, pitiful things who only seek to bring the tears and tremoring guts and unhinged, inexpressible fear and anger that still haunt the Americans in the West, to those in the East. It is said that when the sky weeps, and its tears meet with them, they return to the damage past their time. And it is said that in this moment they sing a song – one that Eden heard creep up the stairs, around the open doorway, from the bottom of a cup.

“Red riding, Red riding,
All the way up our hill,
Ride to ending, ride to Eden,
and hell hath paved him a way.
Westing fire kindles wood- in the name of god, Red rides East!
Remember the ashen West! Remember the kindled mountain!
That stand still, and stands ashen- may god keep him still.”

He put the Redclaw back and took up the Bluepaw. It had not been stripped of its color, and was unlike the Redclaw in all respects. It had been put to bed less than half a year ago, and the circumstances had left it with a less peaceable sleep as took to the Redclaw. He could feel the blood it had shed just as equally, but something about the temperament of its dream drew parallels to his own perception. The blood did not sit well in its belly, nor had it ever been made to; he wondered what would’ve propelled his father to arrange such a blue, disharmonious little thing. He recalled his father looking at the Redclaw, when he ever did with a kind of muted disgust, as a man gazing into a mirror and being dissatisfied with the craft it produced.

Eden left the armory and walked the stairs to his room on the second floor of the house, past the two rooms adjacent to his, which had once been dispensed to the children in their family ahead of him in natal primacy. The cell of his oldest brother’s room was fit for an heir to the house they had once been. The middle child’s room was similarly so, and glimpsing the two of them Eden was instead compelled to briskly set aside from sight and mind. They reminded him of the morbid fortune that had come to him three months ago, and how Herman looked at him in the moonlight. He could see, behind the eyes of the fighter he had once been, a father who would settle for the son that remained undamned, who cowered at his breast. And any time his mind met with this sentiment a sweat came over him, one that crept underneath the skin and atop his hairs. He would shiver at the sight of a providence fleeting as quicksilver, fickle to its blood, and the blood it was determined to shed.

He entered his room. It was damp in the winter and oriented in an indirect sense to the source of the fiber that filled his home with the flame of the Smokehouse, and thus maintained a constant sense of wet heat. He warmed himself by gold filament nailed into the wall and above his mat.

He was very tired, and it was very hot, so he removed his robe, laid down, and attempted to drift away. As this happened the darkness brought cold to his mind – cold that rooted in the scalp, and flowed down his body until he was shivering himself sweaty. He thought about putting on his robe again, but it was unkempt, and rough against his skin; he thought to retrieve himself a cover from his parents’ room, which he knew to be unoccupied.

Down the hall he went, passing by cell after cell until he reached the one that smelled of his father, which was perched above the place as if it were the house of god. He walked inside, and went to the sleeping-place on the floor where his parents had conceived him. He picked up a cover from the arrangement, and held it closely to his side. The quality of the room’s must seemed to only just take its place in his mind, and he stumbled, catching himself on the doorway.

He sank to the ground and his heart sought to escape his chest. A great heat forced its way into the center of his skull, and he instinctively thrust his hand into his pocket.

Immediately, the heat began to draw back. His heart removed to a healthy pace, and the tides that pressed at the edges of his vision receded. He took a deep breath, and opened his palm.

He had not known comfort like the icy shard’s frozen edge since before the death of his mother. He felt the light fading from him, and only wished he could thank it for its grace a little while longer, before his body slumped to the floor, gained by the feverish clutch of sleep at last.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License