Monday, 17 September 2012

The Totem

Mr @Simonguy64 wrote the final line of this from something he saw on a walk and I took it as a writing exercise. This is far from perfect but it's what I wrote in three quarters of an hour based in the prompt. It also means Mr HenrySzabranski on the Twittermachine owes me hundreds of pounds. (cue maniacal laughter).

Anyway. What was written had something of the chant I associate with epic poems to it so I tried to carry a little of that flavour over. As I said, an experiment and as I've only just written it no real way to tell whether it's any good or not but here you go anyway.

You can read Henry Szabranski's (a man unreasonably obsessed with crabs) extrapolation of the same line, s'good, you should, here - CLICKY, CLICKY.

The Totem.

Four men poled the barge. Four torches held aloft in the twilight. Four of Atha's strongest slipping through the mist and across black water. Between their feet and the dead-peat-water only a collection of broken logs and twine.

Once they sang. 

Sang war songs to the shield beat of strong men. They sang no longer.. Atha Twisted Legs was dead. Atha who they had followed since they had been children. Atha who had won their respect through wiles, not force of arms. Atha, friend and king.

The lands of the swamp people surrounded them. A people as brutal, treacherous and poisonous, as their land. Had not Atha extended his hand in friendship? Asked of them to join? To move together and banish darkness from the land? How could Atha know that the swamp people have old ways,  ways as black as the bodies they left in the waters. The swamp people would do ought to preserve those ways. They took Atha's hand, their friendship gift had been poison and arrows.

Atha's dream of light had died. The light within his men had died. The Ten People's dream had fallen that dark day. Atha's strongest had been cast out. 'Why did you not die in your place?' their women cried. 'Why did you not die with our king?' their women cried. 'You have brought a curse upon us,' their women cried.

The King of the swamps sent his men out from the misted, wet lands. The darkness Atha had fought spread a little further.

And Arna Strongheart was ashamed.

And Leil the Smith was ashamed.

And Dayl the Hot Tempered was ashamed.

And Verun the Quick was ashamed.

Together they swore the death oath. To go to the shame tree in the swamplands and raise the skull of Atha as their totem. To carry his light over the darkwater. To end their lives trying to end the swamp king in the service and company of their king and friend.

Four torches lit the twilight. Strange birds of the swamplands called out their sadness. Far away, drifting over on the stinking, thin, air the one note battle chants of the swamp people.

They found the place. A raised branch emerging from the gloom, pointing up at a seldom seen sky. Atha's strongest attached ropes and pulled the shame tree from the depths of the swamp.

Heavy with black water.

Thick with the stink of death.

Branches raised

Twisted roots dripping.

The shame tree stood tall and proud from the water. Arna took his axe and split the bound black wood. Inside was Atha shamed. His flesh leathered and tanned by the peatwater.

'No,' said Arna Strongheart and let his torch drop into the black water.

'No,' said Leil the Smith and let his torch drop into the black water.

'No' said Dayl the Hot Tempered and let his torch drop into the black water.

Only Verun the Quick did not speak. He lifted his torch and stared at the ruined skull of Atha. Smashed into a million pieces by swamp people clubs. Atha's sagging blackened skin pierced with the feather magic of swamp people priests. This skull could not be raised. This totem could not crown their prow. Atha's strong spirit had been banished from his body.

But Veron the Quick did not give his torch to the dark waters.

'Nothing escapes this water,' he said. 'All is preserved, changed.' He lifted his torch. 'See?'

Arna Strongheart lit a torch and he saw how the shame tree had thick branch-arms.

Leil the Smith  lit a torch and he saw how the shame tree had twisted root-legs.

Dayl the hot Tempered lit a torch and he saw how the shame tree had blackened trunk-ribs.

'Here' said Verun the Quick, 'is our king. Trapped within the wood. Raise your axe once more Arna Strongheart.'

And then they took the tree's skull. And they nailed it to the prow of their barge. 


P.S. Apologies for the generic fantasy names.


  1. Dude. You spelled my name wrong. For this crime and others (not specified here), I must unleash the crustaceans upon your exceptional tresses.

  2. Oops. I shall fixify straightaway. Why can't you be called Smith? Eh?