Image by Michael KarczUhnhummun the Gracious sat perched atop his prized mare and watched the Untu, whom he protected, ravage the Inwit's village. From his vantage, he could see the ground slip into the sea, the land the Inwit claimed, and watch it burn.
"All this you see before us, Umho my most trusted friend, is ours once again." Uhnhummun leaned toward Umho, "and Hthraa will be able to once again sleep." He spurred his horse onward toward the smoldering village.
I find myself stumbling through the darkness. There is nothing more than a dripping and an echo. I fear it's my body I've lost; I cannot tell. I reach around for a wall, but I do not touch anything.
"Ra'gar!" I shout into the unknown, into the humid air.
"I would ask you to remain quiet," a vaporous, curling murmur washes over me.
A light emerges from a corner just out of my perception. "Who's there?"
"Sh, sh sh sh," a whisper. "Come closer and then speak."
I move toward the light, and it's surrounding me before I can understand where it is. I squint against its harshness, against its warmth.
"Come, come, Ra'garan, and keep me company."
He is a frail man, aged and grey. He wears the armor of the old people, but it's torn and broken, the colors fading into a confusion of memory. The stories I have heard of him speak of a giant of a man, built like the mountains, with eyes that cut through stone and soul. This man in front of me is a wisp, a tired sigil.
"I am not like I used to be," he replied, sensing my thoughts.
"Are you not Gathan Go'Hallad?" I move closer toward him.
"I have not gone by that name in many years." He sits, and I notice for the first time where I am. It is a quaint room with one wooden door. There is a hearth where a fire burns vigilant, and a kettle suspended languidly over it. I would describe it as home.
"Where are we?"
He lets himself chuckle like my grandfather used to when he watched us play in the mud. "Why, in the Bahog, of course. In my prison."
I looked back the direction I thought I came only to find the room has completely enclosed around me. I notice a window that had not been there before.
"I was thrown into the Bahog, like you, like so many others."
"I was not thrown into the Bahog."
"That is not entirely true, now is it?"
My voice caught in my throat, and I am reminded that my son had fallen with me. He had tried to stop me. "No," is all I can manage to mutter. I feel like I am being questioned by my father. In a way, I suppose I am.
My eyes had fixed on the ground before me, as if I was being scolded. I look up at Gathan Go'Hallad at the mention of Ra'gar.
"Your son did not survive the judgment," he says, his tone laden with steel. "His soul now wanders the Fields of Redemption in an attempt to right the wrongs it has committed."
"What have your elders taught you?"
Tragatch was dead, but his sermons live on well in my mind: Gathan Go'Hallad desires only the pure. Only the Brave.
Gathan Go'Hallad smiles at me, the wrinkles across his face stretching to thin white lines. He appears to be younger when he smiles. "So, tell me, Ra'garan, what is it you were hoping to accomplish by coming here?"
He did not need to ask the question.
"You were not chosen by your elders. You had chosen yourself. Was it to help me win back the land from Htrhaa? What?" As he spoke, his armor transformed brilliantly. The colors that had dulled with age are becoming more vibrant, almost as if they were alive with energy. His hair turns from white and ragged to black and lustrous. His wrinkles vanish. "Are you here to help me avenge my mother and ancestors?"
I am afraid, and I feel myself backing into a corner. He is growing larger than his prison.
"No? Then what is it, Ra'garan, that has propelled you into my prison, my oubliette, my referendum?"
"I beseech your guidance!" I shout against his electric vengeance.
"My guidance? Where is your strength? Where is your resolve that you would risk yourself and your son to beseech my guidance!"
I am trembling. "Your wisdom far transcends mine. My son has turned against me, and the children of Hthraa have turned against my kinsmen!" I cry.
"Your strength..." he looks down on me. "Pathetic." Then, he withers, he shakes, and he collapses into his chair, the vigor receding rapidly from his face and hands.
This, I have seen this before when my grandfather would tell us of his time spent trying to restore peace between our nations. He too would work himself into a frenzy then crumple into a chair by the fire. Those were in his waning years, the years and months before he died, clinging still to his days of triumph. I see this now in Gathan Go'Hallad. His years are numbered. I stand, finally firm on my feet.
He fixes his gaze on me and reaches, painstakingly and out of breath, to his tea. "As you can see, Ra'garan, I am old and dead. My wisdom is not to be trusted."
My resolve returning, I puck up his tea and hand it to him. He mutters a thank you, and I sit across from him. "Gathan Go'Hallad, the Inwit need your hand. We need your cunning and fortitude. Please, once again, be our stalwart defender."
"You confuse me, young man, for another with the same name."
Sadness, I suppose, is what creeps into his face, the reflection of a time before blood and loss ever-present in his eyes. I measure my voice, "Where is this army you have been gathering?"
His attention snaps from his tea to match my gaze. "Army? Hah! There is no army!" He slams the tea mug onto the tabletop where it shattered into dust. "What kind of a prison would this be if I were allowed to amass an army?"
The walls of his cell shake one last time before letting out an exasperated sigh. Gathan Go'Hallad does the same. "Then," I say after moments of pure, awkward silence, "perhaps we need to find one?"