The Wind and the Web
by Tobias Aretuli
“He came by a leap to the goal of purpose, not by the toilsome steps of reason. On the instant his headlong spirit declared his purpose: this was the one being for him in all the world: at this altar he would light a lamp of devotion, and keep it burning forever.” – Gilbert Parker
T he sky, blanket to the soil I tread, had lead me away from the comforts of dandelion hair and lilac scented dresses. But as an agent of heaven, I knew my peace was not to last. I had tried my level best to prepare the fledgeling for my departure, but let no one say that the tears of one so high cannot crumble the ground below. Weary was I of this capricious life, but it had been my choice, and with the earth rumbling beneath my disgruntled feet, I sought the one I had fought alongside–my brother of sweat and blood–Mighty Wind.
It was perhaps by the grace of Atargatis that Njord did not send me to an early grave. That god of endless breath cursed my travels, and made every attempt to impede my efforts. But with the protection of the sea goddess and the memory of a slave girl in my mind, I reached the red soil of the Indabe triumphant. Through an arid desert and along unforgiving cliffs traveled I. Pleasantries could not be spared, yet I thought of dear Flame, with her scorching tongue and eyes brighter than the suns that blazed upon my back. This was her homeland, and her kingdom was nearby–it winked on the horizon like a promise of food and drink. Time had become a slow insect for this man. In the span of a year, I already feared the stranger that would face me. I lumbered on.
I moved southward, as a rolling wave of riled earth, to the emerald jungles of lost sons. There, the deeper I traveled, the stronger Night became, till the suns were extinguished from my eyes. Vines draped in languid trails along the thick branches of trees I could not name–with trunks so thick I was certain a hollowed one could serve as my home. There were leaves as broad as my chest and twice as long that hung like shadows over my person. Were I not attuned with the earth, this man would have been lost in the grips of foreign heat.
But my way broke to an open space where rested the ancient ruins of an unnamed people. The masonry was conquered by fauna that snaked and twined too intuitively for what could be construed as normal. These vines weaved in such a way as to form pictures–living hieroglyphs against a dead civilization. I smiled humorlessly. Always the whimsical one, my sweet, sweet girl. The Spider of the West was here, there was no doubt.
The wind whipped at me in a strong gust that swept up from my legs. Unstartled, but now at the ready, I held my staff before me and gazed upward. Wind touched onto the arch of a stone hawk, and with his eyes bright beneath his bangs, the man held me fast in his gaze.
”Friend Earth, what bringest thou here?” he asked, his voice weightless yet surging with power.
“Thou seeketh the Spider,” I said, twisting my staff with my dry hands. “Brother Wind, you know I cannot allow this.”
The man’s brow snarled together. “Thou wouldst turn blade on one you call ‘brother’?”
“And thou wouldst turn blade on one I call ‘daughter’?”
“She was lost to you, Friend Earth. Leave it be. She is none of your concern.”
“I say thee nay! Her actions weigh heavily on me, Brother, but I cannot turn away!”
“Friend, the Spider has earned the ire of my patron. I am obliged to correct her.”
“You speak falsely, Brother! Her patron lays silent–and she is but unguided! She was my ward in the Battles of Hazmes, let me lead her back to the way of harmony!”
“Her power is unnatural. She disrupts life.” Wind exhaled and gazed upon me with sadness in his eyes. ”Please, Friend Earth, it is not my wish to do this.”
“Nay,” growled I, “But it is your cowardice that allows it.” The ground began to quake. ”The Spider has a champion in me, Brother Wind. I cannot allow this.”
“Thou art mad!” Cried Wind. ”That abomination has ensnared you, Earth! But I cannot fail my patron! Njord’s word is all I answer to!” He drew his blade, and were it not for my anchor to the soil, his furious gusts of power would have turned me away.
“Thou cannot fail your patron, but what of your flesh and blood, of which I have been left to care for!? Who can the fledgeling look to–with your misguided heroics, and I, forever cleaning up after you! What the Wind turns over, the Earth is left to bear, and I have grown weary of this! I can hold no more, Brother!”
Wind let out a roar that collapsed weak walls and shook the dust and dirt from the mossy pillars. He came at me in a swift arc, and we collided. His sword was to my staff–but I would not yield, and he would not relent. “Everyday I think of my fledgeling! Everyday!” He thundered. ”How dare you say otherwise!?”
“I say otherwise–and more!” I rumbled back. ”A poor trade, a father for a blade. She is traveling a dark path and you know nothing of it!” We parted with a shove, and he came at me again. Again, I blocked his blow and he pressed on me, the strength of his anger whipping the air around us into a great frenzy.
He shouted over the din, “And what is your intention then? To make a new home for yourself with the Spider and my fledgeling? You delude yourself! Why are you really here!?” I shifted my weight and let him pass me. The end of my staff came up fast to strike at his legs. He fell to the ground with a thud.
I pointed my staff at his face and snarled, “Perhaps you are right. But I cannot abandon those I love simply because my life makes it difficult! I refuse to choose one child over the other. My heart is as broad as this earth, and it can harbor whom I choose…which is more than I can say for you, fickle Wind!” I was swept back with an invisible punch to the gut. The wind robbed me of my breath, and I crashed into an unsuspecting wall. The stones fell about me, but I stood, a hardy man. Wind had risen to his feet. Without a twitch or utterance, I bid the earth to swallow him, but just as the ground beneath him cracked and split, just as the slabs of rock rose to snap about his form like a lion’s mouth, Wind took to the sky.
“Thou wouldst risk the welfare of my child for your repugnant idea of happiness!?” Wind spat from his lofty throne of gust. ”I would spend the breath of this world a thousand times before any such horror would come to pass!”
Our battle raged until the high suns flirted with the tips of the trees. What was a place of quiet disrepair was becoming one of heated destruction–basalt and mortar turned to dust in the air. Crags were as claw marks from my livid struggles, and the air swirled with debris and vegetation. It seemed an age since I had fought so ardently, and even Wind seemed to show signs of fatigue, but still we fought on.
It was at a critical point, when a misstep led me into one of the many streams of fast moving air Wind created, that the battle turned. As anchored as this man was to the soil, there was no parallel to the force that barreled into my body. By the grace of my heavenly blessings, I was left whole, and thus the whole of me was sent deep into the cold jagged embrace of a rotunda. Its arms encircled me, yet through the mess I was afforded a small view of the rosy sky. Outside, I heard a cry. It was not Wind, yet a voice I knew well.
Grunting, I called upon the earth to free me, and the ground shifted, parting the heavy basalt blocks with the added suggestion of my arms and legs. Covered in dust and shaking from my effort, I forced my tired body to rise from the rubble.
Spider, the willowy crack of youthful rebellion, met Wind in combat. She flew through the sky, tugging at threads I could not see, but that nevertheless kept her aloft. Wind, tired from our fight and unaccustomed to her startling evades was becoming sloppy in his advances. Spider, mischievous Spider, with her plum-dark hair bobbing at every sharp turn, her bare feet kicking, her fists pulling at the way of the world…
I gripped my fists and cried out as loud as my voice could boom, “Spider, you foolish child! You must flee!”
But I was soon distracted.
I noted flower petals that were not native to the region. They drifted in capricious fashion along the strong breeze. I cursed, and followed the trail of broken purity to the source. On the edge of a cracked fountain, near the jungle forest, sat Arlés the Sweet Blossom, champion of Kupala and sorceress supreme. Vines snaked to reach her, and flowers blossomed near her, despite the descent of night. She smiled at me alluringly, and I made all efforts to avoid her ensorcelling eyes.
She laughed. ”Place not your fears on this sordid creature, Strong Earth.” With a lazy hand that unfurled as an opening bud inviting a kiss, she gestured to her side, and I saw to my horror that more agents of heaven had come–and all were rushing forth, weapons eager to taste the blood of my Spider.
My chest tightened. I could feel the slabs of rock beneath my feet quiver at my fury. With a yell that threatened to tear out all that I was, I raised my arms. A deafening noise cracked through the air. The earth shook with such ferocity, that those on the ground were felled. Those in the sky, unabated by my wordly displeasure, soon found that Earth was not easy to escape. A chasm tore open across the ruins, and from its bowels erupted such a thick wall of dirt and rock that the pursuers were effectively stopped before they could reach their quarry.
Just as the curtain rose, Spider gazed upon me sullenly, her bold eyebrows furrowed deep over her pickled eyes. She disliked being rescued. I had a brief fear she would resume her fight without care. When the curtain fell, I breathed a sigh of relief.
She had gone.
The wind quieted and the earth stilled, but there was still a roaring within my mind. As I turned my head to gauge how many had come for this nefarious purpose, Wind came at my side and breathed quietly, “Friend Earth…you see now, I am not alone in my quest.”
Before me, amid weak foundations and destroyed walls, crumbled buildings and downed pillars, came men and women of the most illustrious cloth. Just as I, they were servants of the gods. They gazed upon me with virulence, and it was as if the entire universe had come to press on my heart. Toshihiro, champion of Tenjin was present. Once, we had fought side by side. Now his dark eyes narrowed at me, colored with unsympathy.
And like a torch amid darkness, there stood my Flame.
My heart grew heavy. Said I to Flame, “This is too cruel. Not even your brilliance will survive to dance another day should this come to pass.”
The woman, with her twin blades, gazed at me levelly. ”Noble Earth, you know it must be done. Whether the intention was there, the Spider must account for the death she has caused. The gods demand it.”
“Brothers and Sisters,” cried I, “How can ye speak of harmony when you seek to unravel it? The Spider has a patron! His fury will undo our world should we seek to kill her!”
Wind sighed. ”Friend Earth, your wisdom runs as deep as the soil. Do not assume the basest of us. What you speak of, we have anticipated. We seek another solution.”
I gazed at him with tight jaw. “…What dost thou speak of?”
“The Spider, whether through folly or intention, has weaved herself into the jungle. To destroy her would leave a void of hunger that would consume all. Instead, we seek only to lay her to rest.”
“Thou speaks of entrapment.” I looked at Arlés, who had hardly shifted from her spot. My lip curled. “I was mystified as to the reason of your presence, but no more.”
Her rubious lips pouted. “Oh Earth, thou art a cullion…you always held me in such disdain. Tisn’t fair.”
“My Spider holds greater sway in these jungles, Sweet Blossom. All that lives here, answers to her.”
“Which is why she is dangerous,” Toshihiro, quiet son of the Far East, murmured. ”She oversteps her station. Twists existence and makes a mockery of it.”
“Is this an issue of pride, Toshihiro?”
“Noble Earth, you are wise, but stubborn, and bear far too much!” Flame cried passionately. She stepped toward me, and her arms flickered away the harrowing sight of her sabers. “Shed your burden. Let us deal with the child. Thou knows that even should she come under your charge, she would not be exempt from destruction.” Her hands held my face, and I felt myself weaken at the feel of her warmth. Said Flame to me, “She needs her patron above all else to understand her power and the discretion that should come with it.” She added in a low voice that burned me. ”Perhaps she has been abandoned? …And with reason?”
I looked around, hundreds of eyes on my person. My eyes burned and I bit back my grief. ”…Tis my fault, the tragedy this has become. I can take no more. I curse this life…I curse it!” I fell to the earth. I gripped my hand around my staff and bowed my head. ”She cannot be harmed…Should she suffer, the perpetrator will never again walk this realm without the earth seeking to swallow him!”
“You have our word, Friend Earth.” Wind whispered over me, reduced to a shadow in the dusk.