After the rise of the Behemoth, darkness fell.
For five days, we wander in the pitch black. In those days–a time we’ve come to call our lost days–we do not want for anything: we are neither hungry nor thirsty, neither tired nor desirous of mortal comfort. Nor do we fear: not the dark, not the emptiness, nothing. We have been made hollow.
This book has ever been a true companion, but in those days I could not see it. And if I could have seen it, would I have written in it? One cannot say. Certainly I cannot say.
The sun rises and falls each day, but it remains a red slash across a black canvas. Neither its light nor its warmth reach us. By the second day we’ve given up on trying to create light, for fires and torches both burn out and the kindling turns to ash.
In those days, the caravan is the only constant in our lives. We move forward, hand in hand, and follow the sound of its wheels as they trundle down the road. No one thinks to ask where the man is going, or why we aren’t there yet. We go on.
On the sixth night, the world returns to us. The moon rises in a fine gossamer of stars. The first light, thin and pale, cracks the shell of darkness and finds us. And on that night, in that time, we realize all that we have felt, all the fear and anguish, all the hunger and pain, and we weep.
Those days should be forgotten. The things we saw stricken from memory.
But history knows no mortal fear, and in its pages we must be true. In the darkness, a new world was born, writhing and sick. Alive.
Now, here will be recorded the accounting of that day: Behemoth! The sky roars, as if summoning the beast, and the ground opens up to shake loose its wretched child. Two eyes it has set into the side of its head, as dark and hard as any coals. Its horse, which is like that of a horse, long and broad, is covered in a skin as thick and coarse as to be like leather pulled taut over bone–too many bones, too many teeth that rip the skin with their sharpness to be free.
Its jaws, as large as two mountainsides, wrench open and scream into the void, but there is no sound. Instead, the color fades from the sky. The sun disappears behind a perfect black sphere. In the last dying rays of light, the beast spreads its great leathern wings and it soars.
And there, in the waking light of day, it is gone and we are alone again.
None speak of that day.
We hunt hares as we find them on the road and cook them over open fires until the skin splits and the grease pops in the flames. We crowd around the fire like fiends, like madmen, hungry for its warmth. The butcher burns himself in his haste, but he does not regret it. We eat with our hands and the grease shines wet upon our fingers, our mouths, our faces. None of it is enough.
It may never again be enough.
Quintus, a young boy born in the heart of the plague, has a face covered in red scars to mark his narrow brush with death. He has never been pretty, or strong, but from the day he was born he has held a lyre in his hand and his clever fingers have plucked the strings with such a passion as to make kings weep.
But in the wake of that day, he will not play. Can not play. Hundreds upon thousands of times he has set his hands to the familiar strings and for a breath his fingers move as if they know, but then they stumble and fall and he looks out onto the world with such open eyes devoid of any knowledge.
There is a shroud of guilt over my heart, for I relish now the fact that I can still write. My life goes on where Quintus’ has been cut short, a flower pruned too near the root. Sotiros takes the boy under his wing and praises his strong, clever arm, but a sword is not the same as a lyre.
“The town is just ahead now,” Panos says, come back from scouting ahead. He alone seems to unaffected by those lost days and while the rest of us are slow to wake back into our normal lives, he leaps into his role. The axe is never far from his hand and his eyes never stop searching for some unseen threat on the horizon. “We must have gotten turned around in the dark. We’ve probably been circling the town for days.”
“Are there people there?” Selene asks, and she turns to Sotiros when she speaks again: “We should offer them something. A sign of peace. There aren’t many of us, but if it’s a small town…”
“We might seem threatening,” Sotiros says. Back in the carts we’ve carried with us only a few precious valuables: the hard bread and apples that sustain us, but also a few scraps of gold, bits of silver set with jewels, and larger bands of metal that can be cut as coins used to be.
Is such a thing even worth anything, anymore?
“We shouldn’t give them anything,” King Thomas says. The four of them walk ahead of the rest: Sotiros, Panos, Selen, and the king, a private council. The king’s short legs slow the others down, but he refuses to be carried. Even walking up the hill, laboring as he is and pink faced, he does not relent. “Aren’t we in Tira, still?”
“Agapios?” Selene asks.
But any map of this land has been long since lost, or left behind in the castle. Probably these people existed between kingdoms at some point, paying some tithe to either kingdom but not beholden to their law–or their protection. It’s a middling answer, though, and the king isn’t happy.
“My lord,” Sotiros says, and it seems the first time in days when he’s stepped into his old role. Some color has come back to his face. We’ve crested the hill and the town can be seen below. A few curls of smoke rise from far-away chimneys. “We must consider the fact that these people might not think Tira has any power left, whether or not they were once within our borders.”
“But I am king,” Thomas says.
“You are my king, lord.” Sotiros makes a grave bow of his head, his dark hair falling in his face. “But these people are strangers to us, and they may know more than we do. It’s always better to start with your good foot forward. It’s much harder to repair the damage you may do unwittingly if you first show a man disrespect. Your uncle taught me that.”
“I–” the king begins.
“Look, there’s a few men coming out of the town. Sotiros, give me your helm.” Panos scarcely has to ask before Sotiros hands it over: it is wrought of metal but its border is chased with silver and two thin strips of gold run along the bottom. Like that, he has gone against the king, but neither can the king say anything for it’s Sotiros’ helm.
Panos turns away to walk back down the hill. “Hail,” he calls, squinting off into the fading light of sunset.