21

Apr

by thefourpartland

Here is one of the short excerpts from Unfolding a New Continent, the next book in The Four Part Land, that I’m currently working on and that Breaking an Empire is also a part of. I’ll have a flash fiction piece tonight as well, as I get back into the writing groove after a weekend away.

There was little that could be said about the man who stood in front of them that day, for the soldiers saw nothing more than a nomad under the dark hood that covered his face. From what was remembered, he was normal, a man of average height and unremarkable features. Perhaps the only thing that stood out about him was his hands, large and with bony fingers that protruded from the edge of the robe that he wore. That was all, according to the reports that came back from the scouts afterwards. He was a meaningless man, and so the patrol brought him into the camp, where he could be interviewed and poked and prodded until the reason that he stood alone on a hilltop in the plain sight of ten thousand men became clear. Especially when those men were members of an army who had declared war on the nation that had birthed the nomad. It was a strange thing, they concluded, that he stood there. It was only later that they found out how and why and where, and by then all of the information would only serve to decorate the pages of the history books, but that was an important task too, and so the tales were written down, knowledge passed on through the annals of history.

With little known about the nomad, he was brought into the tent of a junior lieutenant, one who would interview captured soldiers and other men. What transpired from that point onwards, well, perhaps people do know, perhaps they do not. All that is understood is that within minutes, the bivouac of the army’s commander, as well as three of his most important generals, had gone up in flames, and in the centre of that ring of ash was found the bodies of all the men who had been in those tents, plus one more: that of the strange nomad. It was said that he was sent in as an assassin, or that he had come of his own free will, but people knew little indeed about his habits even after that assault. His name was never written down, his tribe was unknown. For all that was known about him, he could have been a spirit come from the desert to protect the land upon which he had died. That idea was led credence when the desert roiled up in a great sandstorm, one that lasted for two days, pinning the camp beneath yards of thick, clogging ash. Many men died in their tents, trapped as the cinders slowly filled the exits and buried the soldiers, leaving them to gasp their last underneath the burning sands.

Eventually, some brave few souls left the camp and fled back to civilization, and it was they who brought home the tales of the terrible man and his fire, and the following storm that buried the army beneath a blanket of white ashes. People scoffed at the soldiers’ tale of the spirits of the land fighting back against those who marched across them, but when it became autumn and the army had not yet returned, then they began to listen. When winter passed with neither word nor note, listening became proclaiming, as speakers rallied to the notion that the land itself had swallowed their brethren. When winter became spring, and an expedition sent to find them returned empty handed, then it became lore, and that lore was written into the books. Those who cross the Burning Sand, it is said, will feel the wrath of the spirits of the land, for theirs is the way of silence and of death, and all who cross them shall suffer wrath.

And so it was that those who had seen the great burning became old, and began to die, and the tales that they told slid from lore and history into myth and legend, as those who came afterwards believed them not, and saw not a desert that could swallow whole an army. And so the passages were excised from history, and shifted into the realm of the forgotten knowledge, those things that had been true once upon a time and were now little more than stories to be told about an old and infirm age, without the learning of today’s great men. Why, even today the army sets out on a march across the Burning Sand, full of hope and vim that it will conquer the ancient enemy on the far side.

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