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Farstriker's Ballad of Jason
The Book of Jason
The Dream of the Three Archers
These are the chronicles of the people of the east,
in the days of Joseph the patriarch:
the people who dwelt in the city of the lowlands,
astride the Patawomeke,
the river that winds to the wide waters,
and thence the sea.
Of the people's sufferings,
Their long sojourn in the wilderness,
And their deliverance
Yea, they dwelt in the marble city,
place of dreams and shadows,
known by many names:
George’s Town, outpost of a foreign prince;
Columbia, district of peace and triumph;
Washing Town, so called, some say, for its dirty laundry;
Decie, seat of empire.
Behold the city’s temples, built along the sun’s path,
from the seat of father Abraham in the setting west,
To the field of Robert in the newly-risen east:
ancient site of triumphs and heart’s-gladness,
now forgotten except in lore,
a playfield for foot-soldiers.
Now when Joseph first left the city,
the sage geometer retiring to the southlands
to study circles,
Then did the city’s time of glory lapse,
Replaced by arrogance and folly.
So then defeat, mouthed once,
Became the people’s daily bread:
The taste of hope transformed to ashes and despair.
It came to pass that at the time of Joseph's return,
As some had prophesied but few foresaw,
The people imagined that once again
they glimpsed the promised land,
Up in the clouds.
And the hearts of the people were glad,
And they roared their voices in triumph.
But yet their sufferings remained,
And then arose again the mockers and despisers,
Saying that Joseph was no more
Beloved and anointed, the chosen one.
But now cast aside, they said: tormented by a devil,
A plaything of the gods.
So the people grieved,
and many turned from the true path,
Riven in doubts,
and confused by the windswept babble of voices.
Until one day it came to pass
That a young man came forth,
Beloved of Joseph.
Dusky-skinned and strong-browed he appeared,
Tall and grave,
With stern eyes and warrior's mien.
The people wondered, and while some made cheer,
others threw forth angry words,
saying that the sacrifice which Joseph had made
to prepare Jason’s coming,
marked by signs of wonder,
was rash and ill-chosen.
Jason stayed in the temple with Joseph,
and watched his brethren go to war,
But he stayed apart from the battle.
The people murmured, “Who is Jason,
that Joseph should love him so?
And where is our deliverance,
when he only gazes at the battle, and fights not?”
Joseph and his elders heard the people, and grieved,
And bit their thumbs,
Praying that their search had not been in vain.
Till one day,
Joseph called Jason to him,
and before all the people,
laid his hand upon his shoulder,
and said that the time had come
for Jason to lead the people.
So Jason, fearless and golden in the sun,
Strode out onto the plains outside the city, place of much contention.
Nor did he address the people, the mockers and faithful alike,
But buckling his helm he gathered a troop of doughty warriors
And went forth to combat.
Together they rode throughout the eastern lands,
Driving away the carrion eagles,
Slaying the giants,
And smiting the horsemen
Who had sown confusion and suffering
Throughout the land.
And as Jason won battle upon battle,
though some times bruised or beaten back,
yet always returning, and climbing higher,
His grim warriors grew stronger as they conquered,
and the hearts of the people swelled with joy.
And so the people of the marble city flocked to Jason,
Casting aside their doubts, and those who doubted.
And lo, the people saw that Joseph had chosen wisely,
The young man preserving the wisdom and commandments of the old.
Now the people saw signs of Jason's wisdom,
And his stern mien of command,
And they laughed to see so young and strong a king.
And the hearts of the elders were glad,
And they laughed as if
They too once again were young.
In a short time Jason waged a bold campaign,
spreading afar the city’s might,
until at last, he led his warriors to the mountain of fame,
and climbed to its summit.
There he took old Joseph’s hand,
and brought him to a chalice,
the cup of Vincent,
a silver flame in the golden sun.
Together they lifted the cup and drank,
the young hero and the old,
united in victory.
Then the people rejoiced,
And smote the air with songs of praise,
And gloried in the memory of their triumph.
This I sing.
Now after Jason was anointed by Joseph before all the people,
there came upon the marble city a plague of fish,
The first of the plagues.
The waters of the Patawomeke befouled with dark porpoises,
And from the heavens rained down fish upon the city.
Yeah, even the faithful of faithful were afflicted by one gripped by a devil,
Wearing a red coat, and crying,
"Repent, the fish shall slay the guardians of the city!"
And the people cried out, and said,
"Jason, deliver us from this evil,
For these fish stink!"
And lo, Jason drew forth a smoking arrow,
And shot it in the air, against the scaled and stinking horde.
But his bowstring broke as he drew it back,
The arrow tumbled out,
and the people cried out.
A monstrous fish rose up, plucked the arrow out of the air,
And hurled it back against the city's army, slaying many.
And then the people gnashed their teeth,
And the backbiters among them said,
"See, as we said, he is not the one to deliver us.
"Listen to us, and fear!"
Now Jason drew back his bow again, and fired a mighty arrow,
high in the sky, arching toward heaven.
But even this arrow a fish leapt up to seize
Before it could do harm.
And the people's murmurs grew, and some shut their eyes.
Yet though Jason toiled in vain, he remained calm,
And his army remained stalwart.
And each time the angry fish rushed upon Jason and his men,
A line of grim warriors stopped their assault,
Even pushing them back upon their own lines.
And so the battle lasted from the midday until the sun hung low,
The army of men and the army of beasts enmoiled in confusion.
Until at last, a third time Jason again drew back his bow,
Firing a missile that hung in the air,
The gaping people checked in fear, with frozen eyes and slack jaws.
And lo, one of Jason's own men, a merry giant, a captain of chaos,
Grasped the burning brand and thrust it further on against the foe.
The weary dolphins, pushed to the edge of the battlefield, fought on,
But when a mighty-footed warrior appeared,
Shaun of the seven-league boots,
He launched a foot of mickle might,
A single kick that vanquished the grey horde, and sent them back to the river,
Swimming back to the sea,
So Jason, wounded but triumphant, won the first trial.
Now after this victory the people exulted,
Releasing doves to celebrate Columbia’s triumph.
But evil birds—a flight of eagles, with fierce bills and angry eyes—
Shrieked from the northern skies,
to feast on the slow-winged doves.
The people, alarmed, came to the temple to seek counsel of Joseph.
“This is an ill omen,” he said, and pointed to the north.
“These carrion eagles come from a harsh land,
A place of perversion, where brothers unnaturally love each other.
“These very birds are our ancient tormentors;
Their talons and sharp beaks have slain many a worthy warrior.
They come to renew the memory of our sufferings.
If the people are to live, we must break their curse and slay them.”
So Joseph bid Jason, with a band of picked warriors,
including the mighty Meast and the fiery youth, Laron,
to venture north, and discover the lair of the carrion birds,
and destroy it.
Jason, ardent and battle-eager, went forth,
marching his men for two days and two nights
Over swamps, across rivers,
across a merry land rich with autumn crops.
When they came near the wide waters,
they passed a thicket filled with ravens,
cloaked in purplish black,
Whose mocking caws rang in the men’s ears.
Yet on they marched,
until they came on the second night
to the lair of the carrion eagles.
There, as the tired men rested before the lair,
Jalac the bard stepped forth, and sang:
I sing a lamentation, and a warning:
remember this place and its sufferings!
Forget not the terrible battle of the shrouds,
Long ago but still painful in our hearts,
In which many good men fell, warriors in rows,
Shrouded for protection against desecration, against the foul air.
“Yet to no avail, for the angry eagles, shrieking,
Driven by the goblin Rijn lashing his leathern whip,
Circled over the bodies, plucking away the shrouds,
Disheartening our living men.
So was it in this very place, that dark fight long ago.
Take care this evening!”
Hearing this dark song, some of the warriors frowned,
and others turned their thoughts inwards.
But Jason only smiled, and said to Jalac,
“You may sing, but we shall fight!
Now behold, for we will truly give you a battle to sing!
Are you ready?”
So Jason, light-spirited in that dark place,
led his wondering band into the stinking lair.
Oh, the fight that Jalac witnessed that day was a furious one.
Taken by surprise, some birds fell at once,
But a vast flock, shrieking in anger, rose into the air.
One bird, an eagle from the western waters,
swept like a scythe, the very air smoking at his passage.
Others, fierce and warlike, swooped upon the warriors,
raking them with claws and beaks, felling some and wounding many.
Yet onwards pressed Jason and his men,
forcing their way into the eagles’ lair,
inch by inch, and foot by furious foot,
pushing the savage birds back.
Until at last, Jason drew back his bow,
and, out of a moil of furious action,
shot a fiery bolt into the heart of the vile nest.
Striking its target, the arrow spread fire throughout the lair.
Now birds, shrieking in dismay and fury, rose into the air,
redoubling their assaults on the weary warriors.
One bird, the captain of the carrion eagles, soared highest of all,
then hurtled down through the confused battle.
As when the clouds build above a mountain,
dark and dangerous, lit by flickers of light.
And the air, electric, seems to portend a mighty stroke.
Then, at a moment of silence, when the wind suddenly falls,
one bolt of lightning shoots forth from the clouds,
piercing the earth with a god’s fury.
So came the captain of the eagles, desperate to smite his tormentors.
But Jason’s warriors,
pushed to the last limit of their strength,
threw up their shields, leant one man against another,
and stood their ground.
The eagle lord struck the center of the line,
where stood the young Laron,
bold and fearless in his warrior’s strength.
The ground shook at the blow,
the men to either side staggered back—
but Laron, young in arms but stout in heart, stood firm,
met the blow, turned it back,
and flung the eagle captain down.
Then rose the flock of carrion birds into the air,
cawing and calling in furious dismay,
and flew out of their ruined lair.
This Jalac saw, and sang to the people of the marble city
when he returned with the weary warriors, Jason at their head.
He sang of the fierce battle,
of the revenge of the ancient injury,
and of the breaking of the eagles’ curse.
Perhaps the keening cries of errant eagles,
or the city’s boisterous revels, borne aloft
with smoke of fatted sacrifice—
or just the north wind, bringing autumn’s sharp scent
to fetid swamps along the coast:
one of these, wafting over the damp earth,
reached a field of hulking mounds,
mottled blue and gray like corpses,
that now began to stir.
Not earth but bodies! The starving giants of the bogs,
shaking cold mud from their stiff limbs,
rose up from the ground.
They staggered forth, turning southwards,
their trunklike legs lengthening to eager strides
as blood warmed, senses quickened, and eager noses smelt the air:
Birds, grubs, even worms and spiders the giants ate;
they ravened squirming eels and squeaking mice.
But, above all, they gloried in human flesh.
The desolate region round them bore their scars: ruined towns
and gated roads upon which lonely travelers made haste.
And so the giants ventured far to feed their hunger.
Now south they sped, toward the marble city,
heedless in its celebrations.
But as in former days, old Joseph the far-sighted,
alone in his tower, discerned the gray figures
approaching the city.
“Take heed!” he cried, “Prepare to defend yourselves!
The giants approach—a formidable foe.
Swift and fierce, terrible in attack—we are in grave danger!”
The revelers stopped; some murmured among themselves.
A young herald learned in old scrolls proclaimed,
“We see no giants. And even so, are not these creatures
the stuff of children’s tales?
Surely no true giants these, but a rabble of wild men,
with empty bellies and little fight.
There is naught to fear.”
“I say truly, o ye stiff-necked ones,” cried Joseph,
“These are like unto those giants
who have caused us so great pain in former days.
Forget not our sufferings in their swamp!
Forget not the terrible giant Elteh,
who in battle in this very city
did overwhelm our fiery captain,
Josephus the trumpet-voiced,
snapping his leg and tearing flesh from living bone!”
The people shuddered, but many shook their heads,
for looking north they saw no threat.
And so, while gaping folk climbed atop the city’s walls,
Joseph gathered men, and set Jason to guard
the plain on which the giants must approach.
Now began the ground to shake, and birds flew up;
The merry people hushed in sudden fright:
The giants, following the scent of manflesh,
had found the city.
Now Jalac the bard climbed the tower, to see the city’s defense.
He saw the slavering giants shake their war clubs;
he heard them snarl and roar, gnashing their teeth.
One giant, younger than the rest, led them all,
bearing a great bow as long as he was tall.
And last, behind the savage band, came a withered sprite,
with a pinched and hungry look upon his face—
their battle-mascot, or their pet, it seemed.
The giants, seeing Jason and his men, rushed forth,
smashing hobnailed boots upon the earth and waving war-clubs,
to fight upon the plain.
As when a mighty storm wave, towering up to heaven,
races toward a rocky coast, and smashes down upon it,
black water and white foam contending for mastery with grey rock,
so the storm of battle broke upon the city.
The city’s men did draw first blood.
Not Jason but two common laborers,
a cartman and an arrow-maker,
together struck the leader of the giants a smiting blow,
that raised a cheer from the common folk:
“On you carter, you fletcher, for the city!”
Heartened, Jason led his men forward,
raining arrows upon the giants,
and driving them far from the city.
The dazed giants, wounded and desperate,
took refuge in a wood.
Now the people cheered, many shaking their heads
at the memory of Joseph’s fevered warnings,
and smiling at the thought of new revels and new feasts.
Even Joseph, remembering his counsel of fear, grew abashed.
Had the people seen more truly?
Hesitating, he bid Jason and his men draw back, and press no more.
In this interlude the giants gathered for one more desperate assault.
Weakened by hunger and yet strengthened by it too,
they came forth out of the dark wood.
Now the youngest, the gentle-named
but fierce-fighting Elisha, led them onwards.
Firing his great bow, he rained ruin on Jason and his men.
At his side, piercing the warriors’ defenses, raced two others,
whose names the warriors learned to fear:
Black Sikoh the storm-runner, and Shaki the thunder-giant.
And behind them all Jalac saw the wizened sprite,
no mascot but a true master of battle,
commanding the assault, probing weak points, gathering the giants’ fury.
Now turned dame Fortune’s wheel,
throwing down the city late raised skyward.
The warriors’ blows missed or glanced aside, harmless.
Jason’s bow, unstrung like a ruined zither, could not find its target.
The giants came on,
a moving wall that pushed the warriors back.
Wresting a port-key from its wearied keeper,
they raced toward the city walls.
Seeing the threat, Joseph directed his men
this way and that.
But order fell into confusion,
men colliding in panic and hurtful hurry.
The giants, roaring now at the scent of blood,
reached a gated entry,
flung it open,
and burst in upon the city.
Shrieks, wails, and lamentations
heralded the giants’ bloody feast.
Now a company of desperate men rushed forth,
threw the gorged giants back, and closed the gate.
But the ancient heart’s-grief had been felt anew,
and callow youths could now recite new horrors to match old tales.
While the sated giants tramped back northward,
the people knew that once again,
the giants had feasted on the blood and sinews of the city.
The Dream of the Three Archers
Now after this bitter defeat Joseph shut the doors of the temple,
and sent his warriors into the countryside to expiate the sin,
and cleanse their spirits.
No smoking sacrifice now, and no revelry—
just bitter anguish and, the certain maggots of defeat,
the backbiters. These, happy in unhappiness,
eager to lament,
doffed light thoughts and donned stern guises,
gravely retelling their own fancied warnings.
In the market, around the table,
chair-bound generals devised new schemes,
assailed the warriors,
and doubted old Joseph himself.
Did he not forget his very warnings about the terrible giants?
Did he not, halting the attack, snatch defeat from assuréd victory?
Did not he himself lose the path, that every child could plainly see?
Thus spoke many.
Nor did Jason escape defeat’s venom.
Many measured his arm,
assayed his skill,
sounded his heart,
and judged him wanting.
So Jason wandered the countryside,
bearing the burden of the city’s doubts,
seeking solace in solitude.
In the lonely bluffs above the Patawomeke,
High on a dry and dusty ledge,
He spied a crevice nearly hidden in the setting sun,
a narrow gap in solid rock.
He climbed upwards, and found it led
into a small cavern,
with signs of ancient magic.
Inside, midst shards of burgundy and gold,
lay three old bows of yew and horn,
and three arrows of fire-hardened oak.
Upon the walls were runes,
fashioned in the old style,
and ancient battle scenes of red-smeared warriors,
the old hero-archers of the city.
For this place, long deserted, was the cave of songs,
a history of battles painted on the living rock.
Wondering that he had been led here,
Jason sat, regarding the scenes.
Alone, in the still air and the creeping dusk,
he fell into a reverie, and dreamt.
He dreamt he was in a snowstorm, bitter cold,
with furious wind howling round him.
But yet not cold, for before him stood a spirit,
enveloping him in warmth:
“Jason,” said the spirit, “I am that Samuel,
called by some the father of archers,
the arrow-slinger and the iron-footed one.
In sixteen long years of campaigns
I fought countless battles,
winning many, but also losing many.
I can tell you of a terrible day
when wild bears from the great lake,
our fiercest enemies through those years,
overwhelmed our city’s warriors,
routing us in the mother of all defeats.
Yet we fought those very bears in other battles,
and were not dismayed.
“Indeed, in the green days of my youth,
younger even than you now,
I slew the bears in swirling snow,
with that bow before you.
Behold the scene, painted on the walls,
whose glory never dims.
Know that I have supped on both defeat
and precious victory, and grown withal.”
Then the wind whipped up the snow,
and hid Samuel from view,
and when it cleared Jason saw a second spirit,
with ruddy face and merry grin.
“Hail, Jason, young archer.
I have seen you launch your arrows in the air,
almost as high as mine did soar.
Sonny I am called, a name familiar in its love,
and a truer son the city never had.
“My years were hard-fought: lean campaigns
of great yearning but scant fame.
Yet all my days I proudly bore
the archer’s badge
and the city’s love.
Defeat could not bow me.
Adversity could not bend my will,
nor break my constant heart.
“This then is my charge to you:
Glory comes in many guises;
the warrior’s virtue rests upon
an adamantine rock,
Again the wind arose, obscuring sight,
and when the air was clear a third shade stood forth,
with skin as black as night, and eyes as bright as stars.
“Lo, young one,” cried the spirit,
“Before you stands Douglas,
Who came from under southern skies
to serve Decie.
My term, cut short by time the tyrant,
was not as long as some.
I can speak of suffering,
and I can teach you bitterness
tasted in the lonely night,
and the piercing hatreds
of foolish minds.
“But o my brother archer,
while not forgetting, yet set these tribulations aside.
“I sing instead of one immortal day,
a cloudburst of sudden victory,
when my arrows rained upon
a shimmering green turf,
tranquil in its beauty.
That day I touched divinity,
hurling thunderbolts against the fleet and furious stallions,
to bring everlasting honor to the city.
“The mountain of fame is steep,
and few who seek to climb it reach the top.
No secret have I, but one plain lesson:
Bear your burden, and rejoice!”
Now the wind began again to blow,
and the third spirit vanished from view.
Jason woke, and stood upon his feet in the moonlit cavern.
Gazing at the painted scenes as if to fix them in his memory,
he stooped to take a handful of old earth,
and went down from the cave.
That night he walked back to the city
beneath the shining stars.
In the morn,
as Jason woke, refreshed,
the people’s murmurs climbed to Joseph in his tower,
where he sat in council with his captains.
Upon his right proud Gregg, charged with the realm’s defense,
whose haughty spirit mocked the mockers, throwing scorn for scorn.
Upon his left the clever Alan, with his tome of power
(fabled storehouse of the craft of battle),
whose quiet visage mantled glory-thirst.
These two, with Joseph in his hour of doubt,
spoke of patience, plans carefully devised,
young Jason’s growing time,
and a band of men unknown:
the seeds of mighty warriors.
Yet even now beneath the storm-strong tower,
Jalac the bard cried forth a stormy song:
“O people, long suffering and ill-led,
I sing but what you see.
Old Joseph—woe that he is old, but it is so—
old Joseph, with clouded sight and palsied hand,
now guides us down a crooked path, and twisting,
so the true way is obscured.
His age—sometime begetting wisdom, but now folly—
Or an infirmity of blood,
that makes him giddy and weak-minded,
Or the curse of the boy-king,
who spoils what he touches as he grasps for gold:
Which of these the true cause, I know not.
But all know th’ effect: grandfather Joseph’s hand
does not rest steady in command,
and our men wander in a dangerous land.”
Now Joseph, hearing the bitter song,
could sit no more in council.
As his captains gaped in wonder
he threw aside his scrolls, and rose:
an old man small and slight, but iron-proud.
“No more grandfather I,” he cried, “ ’Tis time for war.
A flight of wingéd lions comes, and I must go to meet them.”
Upon the walls hung his antique implements of war,
these many years the toys of giggling children.
He took them down, buckling his leathern cap beneath his chin,
and cinching his old shortsword in its scabbard at his waist.
So did old Joseph, battle-clad,
come down from his tower to fight.
For his eyes had seen a plague of lions
coming from the north,
like those which in days past had often made assault
upon the marble city.
Always repulsed, yet oft with bloody loss,
they came now in a strange new form:
lions, yet bird-like, soaring high,
avoiding the ground and striking from the air.
Joseph and his captains marshaled forces,
directing them to this side and to that,
wary of the nimble lions.
Upon the plain before the city,
the watchers on the walls discerned tall Jason in the van,
fiery in his golden helm,
as if the gods, admiring, had robed him in sunlight.
But wondering eyes beside him saw a smaller figure,
with leather cap and little sword.
“Joseph!” cried one, and others wondered,
uncertain whether this bode well or ill.
Now on came the lions,
with slashing teeth and claws,
but newly potent, high-soaring and far-ranging.
Rumors of their ruinous ways had swept before them,
So that the people,
when they saw the frightful pride,
quavered and turned away.
Like unto the fabled lion in Argolis,
which dealt ruin in the valley of Nemea,
unchecked by sacrifice or prayer—
until that mighty warrior, Herakles,
hero to the Hellenes,
did slay the Nemean lion,
and take his skin to wear.
These beasts seemed no less fearsome—
but where was Herakles upon these western shores?
Now Joseph and his captains,
knowing the need,
called, “Who is like unto the lord?”
and so Michael did step forth.
A man of iron,
of twenty stone and pell-mell speed,
a battering ram,
a falling comet,
a train of devastation.
He thundered forth,
and did scatter lions in his wake.
With him fought the terrible Reaper,
and a host of others—
a band of brothers, iron-souled and glad-hearted.
Even Brandon, so-called for the thief’s mark
burned upon his brow,
did labor with his brethren,
and struck a blow against the lions
when the battle picked him out.
Among them all, not least the agile Carter,
catlike in his quickness,
brought down a battle-weary lion chieftain,
throwing him to the ground and roaring in delight.
And there among his men stood Jason,
plucking his bow in unforced rhythm.
He rained arrows on the lions, striking without mercy,
a thousand bolts precisely meted out,
a thousand wounds with no escape.
And lo, amid the scene,
within the moil of battle stood old Joseph,
sweat pouring from his brow,
and yet a smile gleaming on his face:
not battle-mad, but battle-wise,
the blood coursing in his veins,
old knowledge reawakened,
caution and wild boldness in due balance.
Then did the lions cease their fight,
and flee northwards;
their yelps and angry cries
sounding long after they were lost from view.
So that the setting sun beheld a scene of happy triumph:
the plague of lions driven off,
Jason and his men the victors,
and Joseph, newly blooded,
restored to his full powers
on this happy day.
So Jalac could compose a song
full-throated in its joy,
unbridled in its praise:
And this he sang of that day’s victory.
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