Our charte does not the killing of theme can only drive them out. In the forest, we find them cat, hog, black bird and rat. They can steal any shape, indistinguishable from the other animals we hunt when our supplies run low.
warnings, but the snake twists her mantled collar up a face.Two days pass before she finishes swallowing Brton, another four before she can scuttle her swollen body across the cracking leaves. We follow until we are sure is gone, until she passes , then we set fire to her pit to the woods around the pit. tink thickens the air as we
We circle our tents tight round our dwindled supplies. The strictures of my station demand hunger and thirsto such vows guide my men bodies require rations we no longer possess. They hunt the forest or steal from the who live haunt these woods. burn them from their homes
I brought my men forth from the city y beard has grayed sincey limbs braided with muscleur scouts, the cut and gelded men sent before us, tled us new holdings set these dark woods.
attempt to flush thome believe those first battalions still exist further into the forest. I do not care if th is full of men or empty men who refused the new order of our cities
ven in the day we rely on our lanterns and torches. The men complain of their hunger, their cold. leads away from the camphold the men back as worm and flylay their eggs in him. We wait until he is covered and set a. For a day it lights the wayor a day we lose no more men.
e catch one still in the form of woman. Always is young. Always she is comely. Always she tempts me with her want to steal from me what I have already pledge. In my tent, I ready myself with prayer and fasting, my body want, my gauntness prominen my shoulderblades press against paper flesh. I call for . To do less is to risk too much.
In our twelfth year, Taschen begins to recognize his childhood in the faces we push out. In the form of a hare he sees the eyes of his nursemaid, then in the gait of a deer a girl he chased . His fantasies persist until they awaken the imaginations of other. Soon their hands hesitate, hang back from their spear-hafts. The next time I them into the brush, they baquestion my orders
The scout Roob captures one in the form of a crow. Rather than push her on, he cages the bird, hangs from his wagon. For a week, the men busy themselves with superstitions. They sit below the cage, listen for signs of the witch within, test the book instructs. On the eight day, Keenan wrings neck, then opens i. He scries innads, asks its offal how long until we reach the sea complete our journey.
Despite sin, I let continue, let Keenan prove there is no prophecy, no answers my .
e spits and cooks its flesh, shares his with no one.
There is the book of the dead and the book of the living, but it is only the first that I write, that I amend with the scripted names of our fallen. The book of the living is already perfect, absolute. Its commands are infallible.
It is against the law of the book of the living to question its contents. When the men pester with endless questions, the book proves itself true shapes new to this forest, from our oldest stories: First one in the form of a griffin, then a three-headed dog, then a scaled woman with hair made of snakes. We have weapons with which to challenge these foes. One by one the pages of my book with the names of my men.
We are already diminished when we return to our camp to find our wagons shattered, circled around a wreckage of human bodies. Atop the piles stands the form of one of our brothers, armed and armored but no longer of his own mind. We test the one inside him with our lances, tatter his uniform, ribbon his fleshe yields. After he is subdued and shackled, we drive him forward into the forest, then burn what fallings our blades left behind.
After the wholeness of our covenant is broken I watch the faces of my men for signs their nature has turned. What more is it to give up sleep When exhaustion cracks my spirit, I cry out the names I have written, the prayers, the apologies meant for their unfulfilled brides' ascension to their absented pyres.
Too long I tolerate their grumbling, their blacked glances. The dagger hangs in the minds but it is the hand of Elgar that brings it to my tent, employs it to open my shoulder. I sunder his thread with my own blade, but my injured arm s already its strength. No more will it hold my lance, nor the staff of my office. It is not by their authority that I rule, so this changes nothing. I regird myself in fresh leathers and tunic, the symbol of my station around my neck. To my men I show no weakness must remain the avatar of authority.
Beneath leather and cloth the wound festers and leaks. First yellow then green. What morning is it when I awake to the first maggots crawling from the puncture, stinking the space of my tent? I send my manservant Harlan out into the dew and the dark while I pour holy water across my shoulder, rub in the blessed salts. The wound burns, but what grows inside me is deeper than my fingers can reach. The birthplace of flies, or else those in the form of flies. To be betrayed from within so that later I might be betrayed from without.
With prayer and sacrament, I fast my body. What lies within hardens even as my shell collapses. Bina urges me daily to take a horse, ride so that the men. I refuse his request. There is neither luxury nor convenience in the testimony of my example. We fill my tent with incense in the mornings to cover decay, but still the men sneak away, first one by one then in pairs.
One in the form of a gorgon gores Cheva, then turns his brother Emir to stone while my men batter their blades agianst its iron skin. They brought this on themselves, I say to Bina. I say, This is the demonstration of their doubt.
The next day there are tentst is no longer possible to the difference between the missing, the dead and the deserted.
And then I am alone, even Harlan gone off into the forest or else laid to rest by some beast. A fever overtakes me, but still I dress. Still I belt my blade to my waist, strap the book of the living and the book of the dead into their harnesses. Everything else I leave behind. I have no need of tent or horse-tack, no want of rations. I do not require a lantern I am becoming light, blaze, beacon. I know the way.
In the fire, I have seen the sea, have seen the adversary tumble into its waters by the hundreds. Only the faithful will be there when I arrive. I have seen their shapes, shrunken as my own, standing on the shore. They are waiting to deliver my reward, if only I can reach them to receive her
The forest darkens, or else my eyes shrink to slits. The haunt the trees grow closer. I sense them around me, before me and behind me, waiting, watching. I reach my hands out, feel forward. I never once wasted prayer upon myself but now that I am alone I am all I care for. I beg for the thinning of trees, for the coming of cliffs, for the switchbacked descent to shore. I beg for the scent of the same, the strength to go on. I receive no appeasement, no boon granted for my long service.
There is only dark to see, only the ones around me to hear, only the rot of my right arm to smell.
I stumble and I stumble and I stumble.
Breton. Chocma. Kether. Hod. Jesod. Tiphereth. Gebura. Nezach. Taschen. Roob. Keenan. Elgar. Cheva. Emir. Bina. Harlan. On and on. So the book of the dead reads. An alphabet of absence. I long to add my name to the end of the roll, so that whoever finds it might remember me as I have remembered all these others. I am not dead. I write nothing. My flesh tumbles from my shoulder, slips to the forest floor until it exposes bone.