Of course, Zyrcon’s parents wanted to see him after that.
He was startled to see his mother with child. She did not get up to greet him. His father King Balim stood and nodded. Zyrcon refused to bow.
“You are as evil as the Crocs, do you know that?” Balim reproached his son.
“I don’t bow to people who pretend I don’t exist. If you can’t see me, then why bother?”
Balim frowned. “As you can see, Queen Alypsa will be having a child. There is no need for you to go on drawing attention to yourself. You aren’t the heir any more.”
“Hello son.” Queen Alypsa smiled. She seemed to be in a great deal of pain.
“Mother? Are you alright?” Zyrcon worried.
“You are not her son!” King Balim thundered.
Zyrcon ignored his father. “Is it safe for you to be with child? What if you lose this baby as well?” his voice lowered.
Mounted Elphanti guard shifted weight on their elephants near the door.
Zyrcon became conscious of himself then, standing in the place where Aisha’s body had laid, five years ago.
“I am healthy, am I not?” the Queen forced a smile.
“What are you doing to her!” Zyrcon flared. “Can’t you see that fate does not favor another heir? My mother is going to die because you won’t listen to Aisha!”
“That name is forbidden!”
Zyrcon balled his bare hands into fists. His raggedy linen clothing was filthy and needed mending, but he had his father’s smooth brow and sharp jaw. “That name is valuable! It is precious! Have you not considered that she is angry with us, for forgetting her? At least that is how it must seem to Aisha.”
“Do you dare pretend to know fate when she only gave you one vision? When you went off to play with yourself, you shirked your eternal responsibility to your other half. You gave up the privilege of knowing the future when you failed Aisha.”
“If you knew the future so well for having so many visions from Bul’moann, then why didn’t you stop me from abandoning my mount?” Zyrcon inquired shrewdly.
King Balim said nothing.
“I thought so.” Zyrcon boldly surmised. “You aren’t perfect, just like your son. Nor was your father, or his son…” Zyrcon grinned wickedly. “All of us are just guessing, aren’t we? The Animal Spirits die in the arena to bring rain or birth, or prosperity… not one was felled by nature. We aren’t any better off for controlling fate.”
“The kingdom is suffering because of you and your failure. Do not blame that on your ancestors.”
Zyrcon scowled. “I am my own man.”
“Today, because of that foolish Tun’rilly. How can she be so capable a trainer and fall in love with her student like that? It’s disgusting.”
“Take that back!”
King Balim waited for his son’s irrational words to fade in echoes. He wanted Zyrcon to know that he sounded like a child.
“Balim, please… just let him go. Leave him alone.” Queen Alypsa doubled over then.
“Escort him out. Take him back to the stables.”
Zyrcon backed away slowly from the throne, his eyes fixed on his agonizing mother. “Listen to Aisha…” he mouthed, without realizing it. Zyrcon shook his head then, trying to cast off the intense impulse to shout it at his father. A large mare elephant came and obscured his view then. The rider gestured for him to go with his spear. Zyrcon skirted the swinging trunk, and darted out of the cave.
Later that week, Queen Alypsa died.
Prince Zyrcon was not invited to the funerary service but his father summoned him immediately after.
Zyrcon spent his savings on a black robe so that he could mourn for his mother, even if his father refused to include him. A slender leather thong was tied across his forehead. His wild black hair had been combed with sandalwood and soaked in balm. That had been Tun’rilly’s way of sharing condolences. Various villagers had whispered their prayers to Zyrcon as well. It seemed more people than ever were willing to acknowledge him as Prince now. The king could have but one mate, and she bear him but one anointed heir unless another was brought forth. The new heir had died in Queen Alypsa’s womb, and the two of them gone to the place of Nothingness to the West, a void beyond this realm and even the realm of the Animal Spirits like Aisha.
Five Elphanti war mounts stood along the walls of the circular throne room cavern. These mares wore black dressage and their riders had long black cloaks swathed over their armor. King Balim stood as soon as Zyrcon entered the throne room, and thrust his arm out to the door.
“You are banished. Get out.”
Zyrcon flinched. He hadn’t even a chance to kneel before his father… and now this?
“Where is my mother?”
“She was not your mother!”
“Where is she?” Zyrcon yelled. The echoes jostled the elephants waiting patiently along the walls. “Am I to assume that she still lives? Her death is but a rumor to me without evidence of the lifeless body, or the ashes… is this how you wish me to be your son? To even take my mother away from me in death?”
King Balim seethed. He took careful angry steps down from his throne. He stood in the place where Aisha had lay, and where Zyrcon’s mother doubtless lay when Bul’moann came to take her off to the burial grounds too.
His father pointed again. “There is no Prince Zyrcon. There never was. You are banished!”
“I stand here before you. I exist.” Zyrcon pinched his arm as if to prove he was flesh and bone.
His father never dropped his arm.
“Then whom are you throwing out of the Elphanti tribe? A specter, a ghost?” No response from his father.
“If you put me out, you might as well toss me off the side of this mountain! Without a tribe I am prey to any fate that would have me! Is that what you want? To kill your son?”
“You might live.” King Balim almost smiled. “If a Croc takes pity and swallows you whole… you could live on in his stomach forever. Or… if a panther hangs you up from a tree to revisit the rest of you as a tidbit later… oh, you could live a very long time in the Wild. How you live, and whether or not you live… that is no longer my concern.”
Zyrcon swayed on his feet. His mind raced with fear. He saw white teeth and claws slash at him. He saw lightning strike and splinter his bones. The golden sun set too fast in the West and crashed against the horizon, into a thousand gleaming pieces like a mirror.
Zyrcon opened his mouth to curse his father, but that is not what came out. “This place is an altar.” And he stepped forward, placing his foot on the spot where Queen Alypsa, Aisha, and many others of their tribe had lay sleeping with death before waking again in the next realm. “A sacrifice must be made to clean it. My servant shall bring it forth, at the right time, at the very moment when it is most needed. And then you will kneel. You will kneel inside the mountain that is also kneeling. Bone and rock alike will break to make it right again.”
Zyrcon had not heard his own words, but his father had. “Lend me a spear!” he shouted to the mounted guard nearest him. Zyrcon recognized the desolate look in his father’s face. As they say, the lion had turned against his cub. Zyrcon ran for his life. He ran from the mountain.
Bul’moann’s rogue sons were put to work at the base of the mountain. They felled trees and dragged logs when the village buildings rotted from the rain. Others formed a caravan that visited the friendly tribes and brought trade goods to the mountain. Still more went on independent forgaging missions to retrieve fruit for the mares on the mountain top. Elephants eat so much that the bulls were constantly moving. It was not surprising when some escaped and went feral in the jungle. Being Bul’moann’s son was a blessing in strength and presence only. The actual destiny of the bull who would never mate or see the top of the mountain was a curse.
As Zyrcon watched them from high in a fig tree, he felt he understood how Bul’moann’s sons felt. Tun’rilly sat beside him.
“Thank you for finding me, though I am not sure what good it will do.” Zyrcon lay his head on the woman’s shoulder.
Tun’rilly had been crying for the last hour. “I did not believe until today… there are rumors enough but I never believed that our king was cruel.”
Zyrcon said nothing.
“Zyrcon…” Tun’rilly hesitated. She waited for him to look into her eyes before going on, “I do not want to tell you this, but I may never again have the opportunity—”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Zyrcon, hush. Please listen to me. I love you.”
Zyrcon sat up.
“I am not sure when it happened. I don’t know why it happened… but when you finally came to my bed, I understood. I wish that… our loins never parted.” She inhaled slowly, then ran her fingers through Zyrcon’s watery hair.
Zyrcon smiled a little. “In a way they didn’t… we were together every night and some days… before my mother left this world.”
Tun’rilly carefully crawled past Zyrcon, so that her back rested against the trunk of the fig tree. Then she faced him. She opened her mouth to say something but Zyrcon didn’t hear it.
Mount. The word filled his mind. The energy burst inside of him. A consuming flame seared his loins and he ached to have it sated. He lifted his mourning robe, pushed the loincloth aside. He entered Tun’rilly before she was ready for it. She whimpered in surprise but that quickly turned to moaning. Zyrcon saw her but didn’t see her. He felt the pleasure coursing through him. It pushed at the pain in his heart, then finally overwhelmed his resistance. It took over his mind, let naked instinct have its way. When he came, it felt like a veil had been lifted from his life. A blinding white remained. It was so empty, so clear. The last time he felt so blameless was before Aisha died.
The memory of her death no longer hurt him.
Tun’rilly lurched forward abruptly and begged Zyrcon to stop. He didn’t want to, he was not finished with her yet, but the prince in him forced instinct aside and he gently withdrew.
“Are you alright?” Zyrcon asked his teacher, breathless.
Tun’rilly leaned elbows on her thighs. Her pupils roved to the top of her head where she gazed at Zyrcon, a wild woman.
“Who are you?” she asked him.
“A man of course. A man you made, no less.”
Tun’rilly leaned back against the tree, and reached out to gently stroke Zyrcon’s arm with weak fingertips.
“You will live in the Wild as long as you use that gift… the gift you gave me.” She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes when the tears came, forced a smile.
Zyrcon was afraid to look at her crying too. “You won’t go with me?”
Tun’rilly waited a long time before answering. “I can’t. My place is with the tribe, and the mares.”
“You mean to reject me, because I am too dangerous.”
“No–Zyrcon never believe that. I care deeply for you… but yours is a fate worse than death. Surely, you understand why I cannot?” she begged.
Zyrcon leaned over the branch and took in the view of the forest below them. Then, he spat over the side.
“I’m not coming back.” He wiped his mouth, then spat again.
Tun’rilly cringed at his boy’s game, and averted her eyes.
“It must be what Aisha wants then—”
“She told me to mount you.” He blurt out.
Tun’rilly cleared her throat.
“She told me to do it on the first night, and just now… But I thought it was my choice to listen to her.”
“Zyrcon… Aisha is dead. Furthermore, she is an omnipotent Animal Spirit now. She cares very little about what we do, with the Celestial War raging about her. It would be like ordering around a gnat. Don’t you remember your lessons? Fate does not work in that way.”
“She killed my mother too. I knew she was going to do it… but it was in my father’s hands.”
“Zyrcon, you’re talking madness!”
“I’m not mad!” he laughed, he was so frustrated with her disbelief. “I just know… she’s controlling me, the same way she always used to. And I can’t even be angry with her, because it was all my fault. Now she’s playing a game with my life, out of revenge.” He leaned over and spat again.
“Zyrcon, my prince, I believe it is time for me to go.” Tun’rilly leaned over and kissed his cheek. Zyrcon refused to see her leave. He was tempted to spit on his teacher’s elephant as it passed underneath the fig tree, but he could not.
Damn you, Aisha!
As soon as he thought the profanity, thunder clapped loud just above his head. When it started to rain, Zyrcon childishly pulled the skirt of his mourning robe over his head. His naked torso was exposed to the elements, but he didn’t care. The black dye bled onto his red skin, and he screamed out a bold, manly cussing at the storm, at Tun’rilly, his weak mother, his heartless father, at this life… and then cheered his own stupidity in the end—for beneath that-all, he could still enjoy that his pumping, stained rib cage looked exactly like it was in tiger stripes.
Zyrcon dropped himself through leaves’ crash, for stories. Bit sticks in the corners of his mouth. Then, ran out to meet the lightning on-fours, snot-nosed and snarling.
1, For Princess Aisha :: 2, Drum Beats Two, for the Great Bull in the Sky :: 3, Drum Beats Three, for Those Left Being Bad :: 4, She Catches You, You will Die
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