The Songs of Ormo
The Wife of Dark-Blue, Chapter Four
Ormo was bolg Gazat, short and wide with fire-bright hair and deep, dark, near-black eyes.
Never were two brothers so similar to see but so unalike at heart.
Hirmo worked without rest. Stooped and strong, his forearms like an old bowmans, his hands were mighty and incredible, spread and corded, woven with veins like lacing rivers, scarred and calloused like a slaves, invincible as fire as quick and soft as light. His hands thought faster than a river and deeper than the sea. His words caught up later with what his hands had already conceived, they never stopped moving and he could do anything, perform any craft and knew every skill. His hair was often tied back but always burst out and he went about the place from deed to deed, eyes lowered, muttering. When he slept his worn hands drifted in the night, weaving dreams.
Ormo stood tall and soft, except for his legs which were supple and strong, for he sprang, danced and ran about the place. His face was bright and open as a child’s and he was interested in everything that moved and every sensation of life. He would kneel in the dirt to watch ants, when wind struck hard he spread his arms to catch it and laughed. He ran through the forest as a blur of red and the birds did not cease to sing in his passing. He had soft hands. Depending on the season his skin could be petal-pink, scorched scarlet or a deep burnished copper. He was always staining his trousers and taking off his coat. He never came home clean or with his hair in order and his beard was as free as a cloud.
Hirmo made Ormos’ clothes and when Ormo came home late, dirty, dishevelled, with mud on his trousers and holes in his elbows and knees, or without his coat, having ‘hung it on a branch’, or with a baby bird, or pockets full of mice or strange eggs, or with a snake in his beard or an arrow in his hair from when he had been seen by the People on the forests edge, Hirmo would batter and harangue his brother crying; “You have betrayed me again!” Then Hirmo would mend or replace everything broken or lost, extracting as a price from Ormo, solemn vows of sanity, obedience and “punctuality! Which is the quality of being on time”. The Eagles never attacked Ormo either, and sometimes they even went after Dark Blue.
Ormo sang. He could sing of all things. His songs tell the story of my time in the House of Dark-Blue, from which, when I left, I never returned.
In Summer he sang thusly;
“Sing Sun, sing! Now are your days,
Here is your Kingdom, sing Sun, sing!
Burn, Trees, burn! Green is your flame,
Wild are your pathways, burn Trees, Burn!
Flee clouds, flee! Hide from your master,
Crawl on the Hill-tops, Flee Clouds, Flee!
Bleed flesh, bleed! Fierce is the Hunter,
Fast is the shadow! Bleed Flesh, bleed!
Die Stream, die! Bronze is the cloud-land,
Brazen the hammer, Die, stream, die!
Breathe, Fire, breathe! Ripe is your banquet,
Soft are your children! Breathe, fire, breathe!
Sleep Sun, sleep. Passed is your kingdom,
Cool is your grave, sleep Sun, sleep.”
I heard this song three times.
At times Dark-Blue would pass from the forest and ride amongst the god-touched People of the north and the borderlands. He never asked Hirmo, Ormo or I to come with him, never said where he went or why. He came back followed by crows and laden with heads bound like bunches of grapes, cords were woven through eyes, nose-hole, ears and the soft part of the upper mouth. Dried, rotted, near-fresh, dripping blood. Then Ormo sang thusly;
“Harvest time, heads in wine,
Born of lies, flies in eyes,
Child of error, seed of terror,
Foul your nature, born of traitor.
The Son of the Wood-Thane rode!
Ever-fleeing, never seeing,
Seed of bitter, bright-ones litter,
Steel your fate, cold your hate,
Black your life, short your strife.
Gold was the bow-string! Fleet was the shaft!
What do you see hall-raider, blood drinker?
Where do you rule night walker, man eater?
Where is your kingdom, where are your lands?
Why did you die, slave-master, crown-breaker?
The Hall-door closes. Night turns away.
Why were you born, slave-child, chain-geld?
Why were you made, whip-spawn, hearts’ thorn?
What did you dream of, child of the fire?
Why must you die thus slaves of the liar?
The Son of the Wood-Thane rode!”
It shamed me that my Husband took little glory in his trophies. My people had always hunted thus, and thus been hunted, for such is the will of the Pain-King who made the world on a foundation of blood. I grew up with the smoked heads of great enemies taken by my father and his father and his fathers father. These and the tales of their taking, and the women stolen at that time, whose fate was dark and holy, were the foundation of our tribe. Our heads, maidens and tales were taken in turn, by the holy Uruk, the pure ones who claimed descent from them, by other tribes of the People and sometimes by stranger things, riders from the south and west or Golg, who could pass invisible across the land.
I offered to pickle, tan and dry such heads as Dark-Blue brought, and place them in places of honour in his house so that their story might be told and passed down generations, and their spirits enslaved to his will and the will of his heirs and the power of his blood be known and spoken in the land.
Yet, though he took heads he would have little keeping of them. They rotted and had to be burnt. Their skulls mixed with our firewood. What you catch, keep, and if you would not keep then catch not. But my husband had two shadows in this thing, as he had in many things.
When Dark-Blue had returned and the leaves changed, he took animals to slaughter. He lead them to the brook behind the house, where it ran over slate, took them into the water and slit their throats quickly with a knife of flint and bone. Then Ormo sang thusly;
Lie not in grey halls,
Run fast, escape the night.
Flee to the sunset, outrace the dawn.
Stop not in dark places,
Fly through the night-lands.
Dance through the star-thorns, quicker than dreams.
Drink not from quiet waters,
Hide not from wild thunder.
Be faster than lightning, outpace your pulse.
Come back to green pastures,
Return to the Red Hall.
The scent of the Spring calls, the Sun warms your face.
The blood, and the scent of death, all ran away into the stream and few of the animals about the house were disturbed. There was nothing to clean but the knife and his hands, though the loss of blood was foolish, it can make good pudding.
It was at these times that I loved most to walk in the forest, before the Snows began and our small world began to close up again, for the Songs of Ormo did become trying when there were four in a small space;
Here is the music of snowfall, passed is the end-world of birds,
The doors of the forest are open, the floors of the wood-halls are white,
The siege of the air has been broken, Wind is resting in his grave,
Death tells his story in ice-cracks and twig-snaps from far in the dark.
All that breathes must sleep and all that sleeps must die,
My Brother is kicking me out of the house.
Close is the hearth-hall, small is the space,
The brother of Ormo is wrathful,
The master of Ormo commands,
The silence of Ormo is called for,
The singing of Ormo must end.
At least at night,
The boot of the brother is swinging,
The door of the hearth-hall is wide,
The buttocks of Ormo are stinging,
The snow of the forecourt is cold.
The ears are like hawks now, the eyes see but white,
The sounds are like Pilgrims who range from beyond,
The exile in silence surrounded, except for the far-farers song.
And the curse of the brother of Ormo,
Which patters on the snow like feet of mice,
Saying Ormo shall learn to be silent,
Or the singer shall sing in the cold,
It was in the deeps of the third winter that Dark-Blue changed his aspect and looked north and gazed through the fire which cast wild shadows in its depth and said;
“Nikki, at the turn of the world I must seek towards the rising sun for a beast great enough to pull us, and in Spring I must Marshal the Birds. For as the weather warms we must go North you and I, into the ruins of Uttermost where you shall do me service in the veins of the earth, and we shall be maybe half a year in getting there, and must find our prey before winter takes back his kingdom. For then it will be too late .. too late to get out..”
“Where you go, I shall go,” I said, “if you will it.”
“I do not want to. I did but do not. It is a foul hunt to me now.”
“You must like having a wife too much,” I said, “men with wives too-kind oft lose their edge and whittle their years.”
“… but I must,” he went on, still staring into the shadows in the fire, “for someone must, and perhaps only I can. No time.. Mountains climb and crumble, stars sing and spark, how can it be that here and now I have no time.”
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