“Our end – when it comes – will be writ by our own bloody hand”.
– The Unspeakable Kyng, Lord of Albyon and Kyng of Alba
The yelk whimpered as it died.
It took the combined strength of two gene-hanced warriors to hold the beast in place; one pulling down on its hind, the other grasping its horns and pulling them upwards to expose the wound in the creatures’ neck. Blood pumped from the beasts’ throat, dark and hot, steaming in the frigid cold air as it spread over the ground. The ash-grey earth, hardened and cracked, absorbed the hot blood eagerly, like a thirsty dog lapping at a riverbank. Tendrils of it ran through cracks in the ground, rivers of crimson flowed and pooled, spreading outwards as the beast whined.
The people of Clan-Dogr formed a loose ring around the dying creature; men, women and their children clustered around in solemn silence. At the back were huddled the mutant-slaves with their own kin, like a twisted and pitiful shadow of the families they served. They had all come to witness the Foretelling but most of them were not even looking at the yelk, their eyes were fixed upon at the women that stood before it.
Beorwyn could feel their eyes bore into her neck, she could sense their repulsion at her presence, feel the pastiche of fear, hatred, and awe as if they were a thousand speartips pricking her skin. She stood before the beast, the bloody knife still in her hand, her breaths misting in the chill morning air. It had been a fine beast, once. But its udders had long since dried and its milk soured. In life, the creature had provided for an entire family, giving the milk from its breast and its own young to be slaughtered and fed upon.
In death, it would serve a different purpose.
At last, the yelk finished it’s struggling and passed, leaving a mournful silence in its wake.- punctuated only by the wind that blew cold and firm across the plateau-top of Dogr Bank.
Beorwyn stepped forward and the two warriors that had held the beast quickly retreated to where their fellow warriors stood. The assembled warriors of Clan-Dogr stood head and shoulders above their kinsfolk, the gene-forging they had subjected themselves to in the Castrum-Cities of their king had swollen their bodies with densely packed muscles. They stood around a raised dais overlooking the stone circle where the clan was gathered, atop of which was a simple iron chair in which sat their clan-lord.
Lord Brogya sat low in his throne, watching Berowyn impassively with ash-grey eyes. He leaned forward, one arm resting on the crossguard of Wulthraax, the enormous long-blade, taller than any man – gene-forged or otherwise – that was the heirloom of Clan-Dogr and the mark of his lordship. When he spoke, it was hard and low, like the snap of heavy bone.
‘Get on with it, Hollow One, what does this pitiful creature foretell?’
Beorwyn knelt in the blood of the dead yelk. She looked around her, marking and tracing the outlines of the crimson pool, noting where the blood pooled and where its streams avoided.
As she looked, Lord Brogya shifted in his chair impatiently, moving his arm to hold the grip of Wulthraax with a large meaty fist. The clans-folk were silent, their collective fear and hatred now ringed with suspicion and curiosity.
At last, she stood and faced her lord; pushing the hair from her face and leaving bloody streaks across her forehead.
‘The rumors were right, there is death to the South, the desert there calls blood to it like a mother to a babe’s cry. Something is in the desert.’
The assembled warriors growled and hissed at her words, the clans-folk seemed suddenly fearful and restless. Lord Brogya remained unmoved, ash-grey eyes holding hers despite the deep revulsion that he must have felt looking directly at her.
‘The call cannot be ignored’ she gestured at the blood around her feet, ‘word of this prize has already spread across Terra, there are others moving, seeking this Baraqu. But the call is for death, Lord, only death will answer it’ she spread open her bloody palms, ‘only blood will make the desert give up its prize. Your soul is bound there, Lord, you must take the path South and go where it leads.’
There was a long silence that followed until Lord Brogya rose from his throne. Drawn up to full height, the clan-lord was over seven-foot-tall, the vast yelk-furs around his shoulders enlargening his already vast gene-forged frame.
‘Tell me, Hollowed One, is it my blood around your feet? Is my soul fated to die out there in the hotlands?’
All eyes fell on her again.
‘I cannot say.’
Lord Brogya seemed to consider this for a moment then he grunted and hefted Wulthraax, gesturing to his warriors below him.
‘And you, my blood-kin, do you fear death?’
They howled, raising axes and spears, their voices like a new gust of wind.
‘Shall we seek this prize? Claim it for the glory of our clan? For the survival of our people?’
More howling, the clans-folk brayed and cheered.
‘Shall we seek the Baraqu?’
‘Baraqu!’ they cried in unison, ‘Baraqu!’
Beorwyn shuddered at their cries, her eyes fixed on a thin trickle of blood that picked its way weakly to the edge of a crack in the frozen earth, then dripped into its depth. She would go South too, she knew then, and she would die there.
Around her, the voices of Clan-Dogr rang in her ears.
‘Baraqu! Baraqu! Baraqu!’